AfricaLive: Please tell readers a bit about the DNA of S. Tetteh + Associates, and your motivation for starting the enterprise.
Senyo Tetteh: After being certified as an architect in Ghana, I was excited to go out there and show what I could do. Unfortunately, at the time, the country was experiencing a serious economic downturn, and opportunities were few, and far in between. After running into many brick walls in Ghana, a lot of my peers and I decided to look abroad. Some of my friends ended up in Nigeria while I landed in Liberia.
Soon after arriving in the country, I would land my first job with Milton & Richards Architects which then was the largest architectural firm in Liberia. The most important assignment I had while working with the firm involved participating in designing and supervision of the engineering faculty & science buildings of the University of Liberia.
Political upheaval made my stay in Liberia untenable. Luckily for me, I had a British-Ghanaian wife who helped me get to the UK. It wasn’t easy there either because it was challenging to convince people that someone trained in Africa could work in the west. It took me about six months to land my first job, and initially, I was only working for minority groups, which I was very happy to do. I oversaw the building of homeless shelters as well as other small amenities in those communities. I also worked with the Architects Department of the Haringey Council which is one of the local authorities in the North of London where I worked on housing for families and sheltered housing for the aged.
After a while, I felt it was time to look for work in bigger firms in London. I got hired by Leslie Jones Architects with offices on Bentick Street a few minutes walk from the Bond Street Underground station in London. Leslie Jones exposed me to larger projects which involved mega projects like shopping malls and office buildings. An economic downturn occurred in the UK as well, and I ended up unemployed. After deep reflection, I decided that I had gained enough experience to start my own architecture company, so I decided to head back home to Ghana. The news was not received so well by family, but I felt I had to stand on my own.
My Ghana return was difficult at the start having been away for fourteen years, but I soon started to know the right people. Humble beginnings saw us handle small residential projects as well as designing the canopy walkway of the Kakum park in the Central Region of Ghana. As time flew by we gained in popularity, and bigger projects came our way. We have now become a motivated and skilled multigenerational team. We are also highly decorated, having won several national design competitions. Ours is one of the few Ghanaian firms to have a well thought out succession plan in place. My younger partners do most of the work now as they prepare to take over leadership in the coming years.
A strong organisational culture has seen us operate as a solid unit with very low staff turnover. Part of our culture and DNA is open-mindedness, which enables us to work well with other firms in the industry. We are also big on building future generations of architects through our internship program. Our mantra is creating architecture that is “sustainable, timeless and advanced”. Our mantra has guided us to winning many national accolades as well as important contracts.
Notable wins include contracts to design new Ghana School of Law and the Judicial Training Insititute both in Accra the capital city, as well as a joint-venture contract with another firm to design housing facilities at three of our national parks. Our corporate policy hinges heavily on integrity while adhering to global standards. Our drawing and design work is lauded often for being very thorough, and we are committed to continuous improvement and learning. We recently won an international accolade with the world-renowned Shelter Afrique, a housing finance agency, after taking part in their 5000 for 5000 housing project international competition. We are now working with them towards the building of affordable homes in Ghana. We have also attracted the attention of firms in Uganda, Ivory Coast, UAE, Somalia, and we were invited to speak at the Kenya Convention of Architects at their recent AGM.
AfricaLive: Being a major player in the industry within Ghana and West Africa, what do you consider to be the primary opportunities and threats facing your sector?
Senyo Tetteh: There is a boom in the property development sector in Ghana, especially when it comes to residential property. The boom has been ignited by surging demand for housing in the country because of population growth, as well as increased trade activity. Demand is great, but the problem you often run into is the need for funding.
The funding conundrum had confronted us in the past when we had to give up a large project because we couldn’t raise enough funds to see it through. It can be frustrating when you do all the design work, then fall at the last hurdle of funding. The government has done some public-private house building projects, but these aren’t big enough to meet our two million homes deficit.
Opportunities are abundant in housing. Reaping from the opportunities will first need us to find cheap ways to build houses. We must identify and make use of inexpensive building materials so that costs passed down to final clients remain low.
The government must chip in by ensuring we have adequate infrastructure. When a construction firm has to build up pathways and amenities themselves, those costs are reflected on the cost of the houses they build. The government must rise to the occasion to ensure costs are kept within reach of the people.
AfricaLive: With the launch of the African Free Trade Area Agreement slated for 2021 expected to boost intra-African trade, what are your ambitions both short and long term, when it comes to international trade?
Senyo Tetteh: Our main focus now and future is Sub-Saharan Africa. Countries in this block all have similar housing challenges, therefore, collaboration is needed. We want to find suitable partners within the continent to collaborate with so that we can grow our countries together.
AfricaLive: You raised the funding problem earlier; most organisations either seek private sector funding, public sector backing or loans and grants. What kind of funding are you interested in?
Senyo Tetteh: I would look at a mixture of funding streams. All those funding mechanisms are fine, but we want more sustainable sources of revenue. Rental housing is, therefore, a big part of our agenda. If we can have steady rental incomes coming in over long periods, we will be able to fund our projects. Ghanaian universities also need residential properties to house students.
We are involved in the planning for these facilities, but the funding problem keeps recurring. Most of the banks we are approaching only want to offer a five-year funding facility. You cannot provide students with affordable accommodation and still pay off the loan in time. We have a situation where there is demand for accommodation, but people are not in a position to pay a lot of money. Long-term lending facilities are a necessity if we are to create facilities that are friendly cost-wise for our people.
AfricaLive: Ghana faces a significant long term challenge from the twin pressures of a growing youth population and increased workplace automation brought by the 4th Industrial Revolution. What innovation are you planning to introduce to the property sector that will help address Ghana’s challenges?
Senyo Tetteh: The Covid-19 pandemic has led to changes in working spaces all over the world. I believe the changes will be the new norm for a large number of companies, even post-pandemic. We are looking to set up for-rent spaces for short periods that will have all the work amenities required. The idea of smart offices is one that excites many potential clients.
We are also using Revit software for our designs. The technology reduces errors, increases our productivity and also shortens our delivery times. We are, therefore, looking to implement new ideas while also incorporating new technologies to help the government pursue its housing goals.
AfricaLive: What issue pertaining to your sector and the broader needs of the country, do you believe Ghana’s leaders should rally around to solve?
Senyo Tetteh: The unemployment problem is cross-cutting in Ghana. Good-natured people from all industries hurt when we see some many young people decrying joblessness. We have to put our heads together as industry captains to take a stab at this major problem. In our industry, we have to look at the land tenure system in urban areas. You sometimes find in the records that there are multiple owners of the same land. The land tenure issue hinders progress because investors are put off by the lack of clarity.
AfricaLive: Looking at the long term development of the country, do you believe the Ghanian people are on the right path to create a truly world-class business hub?
Senyo Tetteh: Certain things need to happen before we can catch up. We need to follow up our planning with action. You can have the best planning in the world, but it means nothing if you don’t follow through. City planning should be followed to the letter if we are to compete with the best in the world. If we keep allowing people to disregard rules, we might as well give up on our dreams. Our leaders must be held to account for not enforcing bylaws that ensure we have the beautiful cities we deserve.