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The 'Covenant' - What is the way forward for the National Cathedral?

BY: Tony Asare
What is the way forward for the National Cathedral?
The 'Covenant' - What is the way forward for the National Cathedral?

In simple terms, a covenant is a contract. To many of us, a covenant has more religious connotations than just a contract.

There are many examples of covenants. The obvious one is the circumcision of men signifying that they are marked for God as started by Abram (Gen 17:9-13).

We can cite many more covenants starting with Noah’s covenant and the significance of the rainbow: that God would not destroy the earth with floods again (Gen 1:26 30; 9:17).

Again, the patriarchal covenants with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob said God would bless Abraham in two ways: make him a great nation and God would mediate blessings to others who bless him (Gen 12:1-13).

When David conquered all, he decided that it would be right to build a temple in honour of God, who had seen him through his battles. But Prophet Nathan spoke to David saying: “When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. I will be to him a father, and he shall be to me a son.” (2 Sam 7:12-14)

The words of Prophet Nathan were fulfilled through the son of David. King Solomon was left with the responsibility to build the Temple of the Living God. He obviously wanted a masterpiece. Solomon did not find any architect worthy of designing and supervising this temple in the land of Israel.

He eventually brought an architect from Tyre (modern-day Lebanon) called Hiram Abiff who was also known as the widow’s son. He was a son of a bronze worker in Tyre. In 1 Kings 7:13-51, the skills of the architect from Tyre are impressively listed.

But we note that prior to this, when Moses wanted to build a temple, God directed him to a local architect called Bezaleel to carry it out (Exodus 31:1-6).

The Covenant

So from some of our biblical literature, we recognise the role of leadership’s vision and conviction in the development of community or public infrastructure. We also recognise that leadership’s collective and individual beliefs and covenants have significant bearing on the infrastructure that would be developed during their time of governance.

In instances where the leadership’s belief resonates with that of the people, the infrastructure in question would certainly outdo the leader’s period of governance.

It is in this context that I make some points, having at the back of our minds that the President, Nana Akufo-Addo, made a “promise” to God to build a cathedral in His honour.

The President has said that building the National Cathedral will be an “act of thanksgiving to God”. As a Ghanaian, it is not difficult to resonate with that.

It is, however, safe to say that we now know that there is a covenant between the President and the Almighty God. However, the path between the covenant and the realisation comes with many steps. Those of us in the built sector believe these steps could have been handled better.

We have made our points in several articles but we would make a few more.

In my opinion, the Republic of Ghana should bear the cost of the National Cathedral.

Resonating with the Covenant of Nana Akufo-Addo

The need for a Christian Cathedral is beyond question. A place for decent interdenominational thanksgiving is absent in our political landscape. The Independence Square and our sports stadiums have served this purpose for eon years with a sea of canopies.

Isn’t this “canopy culture” ready to be left behind? Are we not ready as a nation to have a place of worship to show our collective gratitude to God?

Two ceremonies that were deeply embarrassing for me as a Ghanaian were the final funeral rites of President Jerry John (JJ) Rawlings and President Evans Atta-Mills. JJ was laid in state at the foyer of the Accra International Conference Centre (AICC).

This is a solemn ceremony that should have been held in a church or cathedral. It was rather held at a place that was not fit for that purpose. Everything about JJ’s final funeral rites was just unfitting and undeserving of a past President.

President Evans Atta-Mills died as a sitting President on July 24, 2012. He was laid in state at the Parliamentary Complex and a Book of Condolence was opened at the AICC. The funeral ceremony was chaotic, disorganised and lacked the dignity of a send-off for a sitting President.

What size do we need?

The design of the National Cathedral sprung up as a surprise, but was a welcoming project. Prior to the submission of any design, the development of the brief is critical.

For such an iconic project, it is safe to say that a technical team should have been put together to discuss the spaces needed, the most suitable site for the development, the procurement path for signing on a design team and contractors, stakeholder engagements, the statutory hurdles to clear and the impact of the design, i.e. impact on flora and fauna.

In addition to these, it is also expected that a thorough traffic impact assessment would have been carried out, resettlement programme and its effect on urban infrastructure during the construction and what it would be like to have the facility operational.

The National Cathedral would have a seating capacity of 5,000, as well as requisite chapels, a music school, an art gallery and a museum dedicated to the Bible.

The initial preliminary cost estimate was $100 million, which has increased progressively to $350 million.

That is not surprising noting that the cost of the project includes the development cost, furnishing, decoration, training of staff, operations and maintenance cost, as well as initial cost for salaries and recurrent expenditure prior to realising initial revenues.

We cannot afford to allow the National Cathedral to go the way of the AICC and the National Theatre. These two notable projects have seen very bad maintenance regimes and it is a shame how they now lie in a state of squalour.

A review of how we have managed these projects and lessons learned would have been a great insight to guide the design and operation of the National Cathedral. It would be interesting to have a concise document to share with the general public if there is.

All these factors should guide the technical advisory team to go through some iteration to firm up the brief.

Let’s ask ourselves whether this is the size of monument needed. Would a smaller cathedral serve the same purpose and how much smaller? Isn’t there every indication that the design should be scaled down to a cost that most Ghanaians and Christians would be happy to go along with?

That debate is yet to happen. Isn’t it time to do that? On the other hand, one would ask that given that it will be used for national events, should it seat more than 5,000?

In the event of all ministers, members of Parliament, chief directors, heads of government bodies etc. being invited for a function, could the cathedral seat them together with their spouses and other guests?

Who should bear cost?

In my opinion, the Republic of Ghana should bear the cost of the National Cathedral. In Ghana, the owner of any development is determined by the owner of the land.

With respect to statutory planning and building permits of projects, the financier of the project is not very relevant.

The owner of the land determines the reliefs that need to be granted or otherwise. To illustrate this, if any private person decides to develop a police station, the specific area of land that is being reserved for the police station would have to change status; the ownership of that land would have to be changed so that it belongs to the State.

This means that ground rents and any other statutory payments would have to be consistent with government property.

The National Building Regulations LI 1630 Schedule 1 Part II clearly lists projects that are exempt from the submission of plans for the application of planning and building permits. They include security buildings, ports, civil service buildings, buildings for foreign services etc.

The National Cathedral enjoys the same reliefs. Though the Land Use and Spatial Planning Authority organised a peer review for the project, they had no authority to deny the project from going ahead.

For example, it will be interesting to see the comments from the Traffic Impact Assessment.

Do Ghanaians resonate with the Design Philosophy of the National Cathedral?

Ghana is a land of culture and colour. In the Ghanaian socio-cultural, political and religious regalia, geometry and colour abound.

All these are representative of the people of Ghana in swords of war (akofena), staffs, umbrellas (nkyiniε), stools and hides of revered creatures. A lot of these creatures represents totems and beliefs and underlie our ethnic identities. The Kwame Nkrumah Mausoleum which was designed by Dr. Don Arthur with the akofena, has an adinkra symbol as a design philosophy. The akofena represents the state ceremonial swords. It is a symbol of state authority, legality, legitimizes authority of our rulers and also a recognition of gallantry of heroic deeds. Ghana’s coat of arms shows one of these ceremonial swords crossed with a linguist’s staff in its top left quadrant.

The design philosophy as culled from the website of the National Cathedral states in part as follows:

“The design of the National Cathedral carves an identity for architecture rooted in African culture, in Ghanaian heritage and is a ground-breaking architectural expression of African Christianity. The concept for the National Cathedral is born of Christian architectural principles. These principals frequently articulate proportion and orientation in multiples of twelve as a reference to the twelve apostles. The National Cathedral's draped roof form draws from the great symbols of the chieftaincy institution and culture, such as the opulent boaman ceremonial canopies and umbrellas, traditionally used to shade and protect royalty. The National Cathedral takes these symbols of royal and religious veneration ad democratizes them from the individual to the people.

The Cathedral's color palette and Adinkra-influenced gardens express a natural harmony and countenance to both Christian orthodoxy and Ghanaian cultural traditions” - source: ( nationalcathedralghana.org/design )

The design philosophy, in my opinion, is quite convoluted and the resulting geometry of the cathedral is inconsistent with how chieftaincy is celebrated the length and breadth of Ghana. The evolution of the geometry, from the traditional tabernacle with the combination of sagging tent-like shape that is supposed to celebrate Ghanaian kingship, is unfortunately “un-Ghanaian” and “un-cathedral”. Our kingship geometry is not drapery and concave. Our perceived geometry is conical and pre-eminent.

Sharon F. Patton, in a publication titled “The Asante Umbrella”, emphasises the relevance of the umbrella in Ghanaian culture. Since the 17th Century, various Asantehenes have received presents of umbrellas “of scarlet cloth and embroidered, lined and well fringed… they were of various shapes, but mostly dome”. So, to see a sagging roof is certainly not Ghanaian kingship celebration and certainly not cathedral-like. 

The resulting roof form has been a source of worry for many construction managers and architects. The concave roof will be very efficient in the collection of storm water.

However, the same cannot be said about the disposal of the storm water collected on the roof from what we see from the artist impressions. Of course, there are technological solutions: a mechanised pump could be installed to pump the storm water from the roof. This is where our maintenance culture and the efficient management of our facilities come in.

Again, the design philosophy needs to embrace all ethnic groups in Ghana. The National Cathedral has to be a monument that binds all Ghanaians together in unity and belief in God.

Various ethnic symbolisms could be inculcated in various spaces to embrace everyone. The National Cathedral site is located approximately 1.5km from the shoreline. We have a very saline coastal environment that is not kind to anything steel or machinery.

If the pumps fail then we have a problem on our hands. The devastating effect of the sea breeze on the AICC, the National Hockey Pitch and the Ohene Djan Sports Stadium are there for all to see.

Procurement

Many architects have had the opportunity to comment about the procurement process for major projects in Ghana by National Democratic Congress (NDC) and the New Patriotic Party (NPP) governments in the past.

So, there is no need to have this issue politicised. The strange phenomenon of such projects being treated as urgent and special and, therefore, justifying the need to be single-sourced (sole sourcing) is getting to lewd levels.

The Ghana Institute of Architects has stated this and always supported open design competitions for projects of this nature. Beyond the fact that it allows for varied design ideas, it also makes the process of procurement less opaque. It also gives the opportunity to unearth new talents, as is done in other parts of the world. What is

Way forward?

At this stage of the project, there is certainly no turning back. The site of the cathedral sits at the heart of Ghana’s governance infrastructure. One more uncompleted project would be one too many. But it is certain that the project needs a critical review: 

  • Redefine the scope of the project. The scale of the project and the project brief need a second look. This will allow deadlines to be met and result in a new project resource plan.
  • A reasonable ceiling for the project cost should be agreed on and a revised brief to match.
  • Serious consideration should also be given to relocation of the site for the cathedral. The area around the new Military Cemetery immediately comes to mind. The site is even more scenic and visitors landing at Kotoka International Airport will see it as the aircraft lands. The current site can always be reused and traffic integrity restored.
  • Cost-sensitive areas need to be looked at carefully. Construction cost and revision of finishes and elaborate designs may have to be looked at with the key stakeholders.
  • Getting the buy-in of all stakeholders is key. What would probably appeal to the key stakeholders is a reasonable project cost and a functional cathedral.

The fact is that such monumental projects will always be controversial. There is no doubt that this project will bring sanity into the expression of our faith as a nation.

At this stage of the project, change control process is a difficult decision because it has its socio-political implications.

But someone must take bold steps. Three hundred and fifty million dollars for this project is a hard knock for the nation to take at this time.

There is the famous saying that “for a thing to be right, it must be done at the right time”. This is the time. Those who do the will of God are the children of God. Service to men is service to God.