Saija Hollmen, Anna Koskinen, Panu Lehtovuori, Taru Niskanen, Helena Sandman

Research output: Book/ReportCommissioned report


Since 1993, the Interplay of Cultures Studio course at the Aalto University’s Department of Architecture, has exposed architectural students to cultural contexts outside Europe, with the intention to learn about our cultural differences and similarities and enhance our understanding of indigenous cultures’ living environments and conditions. For most years, except for the pandemic years, while we did research on the Sámi cultures, this has meant travelling to countries such as Senegal, Benin, Cambodia, Philippines, Tanzania and Rwanda.

The course focuses on sustainable design solutions and culturally sensitive architecture. A field trip has always been an integral part of the course setting. No distance or online teaching experience compares to the sensory exposure of reality, of “participating in the world”, influencing and being under the influence of other humans, of places with distinct identities, of smells, sounds and visual fireworks of life formerly unknown to us. Getting a cultural shock is part of the deal.

In 2023, the course travelled to the Ashanti city of Kumasi in Ghana, to collaborate with the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST), and the Ghanaian Building and Road Research Institute (BRRI) for three weeks. As always, the course included studies on local building traditions and materials and the local culture’s social, economic and climatic characteristics. Apart from developing the students’ value system and sense of responsibility, the aim is to provide the students with a wider perspective and understanding of the processes of architectural practice.

The studio setting was composed to merge the 12 Aalto students with over 100 KNUST students, who were processing an urban survey in a designated central area of Kumasi City. Organising the collaboration during our field trip proved to be challenging to start with, due to the unequal size of the groups and different alignments in their assignments. Also, the background of the students played a role: Ghanaian students were operating on familiar ground, whereas the Aalto students did not have the same understanding of cultural concepts, and quickly started to fall behind the pace of collecting quantitative data with the larger group. Instead, the Aalto students directed their attention to understanding the city environment with all their senses in a qualitative manner.

After the inspiring field trip, the studio work has given fruits in diverse projects crafted by the students in small groups, pairs, and individually. The students were granted the freedom to envision and design their projects, resulting in a collection that offers a captivating glimpse into life in Kumasi. Each project, in its own unique way, proposes sustainable architectural solutions that honour the city’s rich cultural heritage with utmost sensitivity.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages105
ISBN (Electronic)978-952-64-1328-0
Publication statusPublished - 2023
MoE publication typeD4 Published development or research report or study

Publication series

NameAalto University publication series: ART + DESIGN + ARCHITECTURE
ISSN (Electronic)1799-4861


  • architecture
  • cultural differences


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