Made in Agbogbloshie

Agbogbloshie is a challenging site. As a space, Agbogbloshie is sensory overload: soil and water darkened from pollution exude noxious vapours under the heat of the sun; toxic fumes emanate from burning sites; the clamour of slamming hammers and banging chisels fills the air… But that is only part of the Agbogbloshie story.

A closer look at the ecosystem of the giant self-organized open-air factory shows that Agbogbloshie is about more than destruction alone. A parallel set of activities support the livelihood of onsite workers: food and entertainment spaces — Agbogbloshie has both a cinema and foosball tables! Numerous mosques dot the landscape (we found a total of 14 mosques in the area surveyed) serving five times a day the faithful that are working nearby. Since believers must take ablution before praying, water circulates in plastic tea pots from water tanks, the few municipal water supplies and public toilets/showers that are sprinkled around the site. Workers also engage in making: making tools (such as chisels) to disassemble e-waste or other items into scrap that has a resalable value, making machines (such as a furnace blowing system using a bicycle wheel) to make these tools, and making items (aluminum pots and coal pots using metals harvested from refrigerators) to sell outside the boundaries of the site.

Furnace blower at a blacksmith workshop making chisels for e-waste disassembly

We love the hand-crafted bicycle tyre-powered blowers used to ventilate locally-fabricated furnaces for cottage industry smelters (seen in various places). They are a powerful example of the on-going knowledge transfer within Agbogbloshie and testament to the intertwined nature of making and technology development. Exactly what AMP seeks to further leverage in Agbogbloshie.

Here is the link to our Flickr album Made in Agbogbloshie. While (e-)waste processing is crude and hasty to maximize profit (informal e-waste workers earn a higher than average income compared to informal workers overall), we certainly see all the parts necessary to make the machine, the self-organized open-air factory, run smoothly. Making is just part of it.

A Spacesuit for the Spacecraft

All members of the Woelab (Togo first makerspace) who came to visit us in Kokrobitey were proudly wearing their African print Woelab shirt… It’s because “we are a community!” they proudly said. This is when I realized that the spacesuit that we were designing was more than a utility shirt to carry things around, gas mask, electronic add-ons (such as the speakers that Daniel from the KNUST Creativity Group salvaged from a dead laptop) or tools to disassemble e-waste. Seeing the youth happily wearing early prototypes (version designed by Dk Osseo-Asare for his Low Design Office crew of builders) confirmed the fact that the spacesuit was a tool to bring together people of the AMP maker community.

Spacesuit 1 Emmanuel wearing the first prototype

Kuukuwa and I tweaked the original design, thinking about how to optimize its production process and improve usability. For example we used 1 inch straps in lieu of the hand-made ribbons structure running across. This allowed for the sewing to be faster and more precise. We opened the sides of the utility shirt to ease movement—it now unfolds “like an apron” and eventually could be hanged in the spacecraft and used as soft storage. We also reallocated some of the pockets and minimized cuts in the pattern. Inspired by the way kimonos are cut, we used a folded rectangular piece of fabric to create a back pocket that would nicely fold around the side and close the utility shirt, hence minimizing the number of cuts. We added to a hood to the original design, prospecting for a way to integrate a gas mask eventually developed by the AMP Poly-Science team—the Poly-Science team who also experimented with weather proofing fabric using plastic, which can become handy for the utility wear.

With Emmanuel (AMP maker and model =) and Martine (Woelab), we produced a first prototype using African fabric. While I was getting my head around designing the hood, Kuukuwa drew the overall pattern to pass on to Master Chamil who is the production manager of the Kokrobitey Institute. Million thanks to him and his magic abilities, the second prototype he produced helped further develop the design. A third (final?) prototype is now in the making. We found that collaborating with skilled and open-minded people as Chamil, master maker at heart, was extremely important to advance our own skills as “fashion designer apprentice”. Making is about trans-disciplinary and peer-to-peer learning. It particularly expands your ability as a designer.

Spacesuit 2 Chamil working on the second prototype

There is much more to do for the space suit—a number of electronic add-ons made of e-waste, speakers, solar charging station for mobile phones and finally detailing the cost of the suit, yards of fabric (could this eventually be recycled advertizing material?) needed to finally go into production of a number of them.

spacesuit Martine, Yasmine and Kuukuwa working on the Spacesuit

The Sound of Plastic

There is more than e-waste processing happening in the open-air recycling factory: plastic processing represents a significant portion of Agbogbloshie’s ecosystem and economy.

Woman in the plastics business
Woman in the plastics business

The plastic processing chain involves various actors (male and female — contrary to e-waste processing which does not employ female workers) and machines:

  • Collectors get plastic waste from all around the city and temporarily store them onsite. Dismantlers scrap plastic out of e-waste or other items.
  • Men and women sort out plastics based on empirical and heuristic approaches: they separate plastics according to their thickness, malleability (thermoplastics are malleable and can be recycled, while thermoset plastics are not), and by the sound plastics make when workers bang on them with a screwdriver!
  • In our interaction, workers in Agbogbloshie did not know about the resin identification code system. However, as observed many locally-made plastics lacked labels, as well as scrap pieces of plastic detached from primary parts in which the label is inset. Thus, if the processing is carried out in a hasty and crude manner, then having resin identification codes may not be overly helpful.

As we learned by watching the documentary film The Electronic Tragedy by Dannoritzer Cosima, in other parts of the globe where informal plastic processing also occurs, heuristic approaches include burning plastics with a lighter and smelling the burnt material – each type of plastic has a different burning temperature. This strategy is more dangerous for the workers’ health than local methods of differentiating between types based on the sound of plastic.

Plastics sorted by color
Plastics sorted by color
  • In Agbogbloshie, it is common knowledge that television cases (made of non-recyclable thermoset plastics) cannot be sold for recycling. And this is also the reason why the item is often used for storage or as a stool. The local workers separate plastics into three main categories (while there are seven identified categories of plastics. PET (bottles) and PVC (pipes) are in addition): “rubber” (e.g. polypropylene, PP), “gallon” (e.g. high density polyethylene, HDPE), and “plastic” (not recyclable). In all, they process Polypropylene PP, High Density Polyethylene HDPE, Low Density Polyethylene LDPE, Polyethylene Theraphalate PET, Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC), and other types such as PP-MD20, and PP-TD30.
  • Women remove labels and caps of PET containers (water bottles for example; water bottle c­­­aps are made of another type of plastic). Workers sort recyclable plastics by colors before (loud) shredding using locally fabricated shredding machines. They then sieve the shredded plastics before washing it. The plastic is now ready to be sold to industries – local and global!

Prices vary according to the type of plastic and depends on the market. For our plastic experiments, we purchased the Kg of shredded PET for 3 Cedis and the Kg of PP for 2 Cedis. The workers specialized in plastic processing were rather excited about the business opportunity afforded by our plastic experiments (bricks and tiles made with PP and PET) and we look forward to this knowledge transfer.

Find more pictures on Flickr.

M&D Final Review

The M&D final review took place at l’ESA on Friday June 13! Edouard Cabay, teaching the RE- studio at l’ESA, was our special guest on the jury. Teams of students presented four projects: a hydroponic micro-farm, a water distillery, a gas mask and a project to map Agbogbloshie using AMP flickr data.

The micro-farm to grow tomatoes and the water distillery used fridge remains (e-waste parts to be found on the dumpsite). Both teams considered as much as possible the context, hence the scale of the projects, DOWN-SCALED to AMP UP! These micro-architecture or “urban robots” as we, AMP founders, like to call them (Also in homage to Japanese architect Toyo Ito, whose first architectural firm was called as such), are seeds for change because they allow for appropriation and replication (anyone in Agbogbloshie should be able to).

The aWEARness gas mask would help raise awareness of health problems due to burning the wires and was to be co-designed with the community in Agbogbloshie. The latest prototype uses papier maché technique so the mask could fit every single e-waste worker and could be decorated [or augmented/AMP-ed up?!] using e-waste parts.

hydroponic teamPoster by Oscar AGUILA (right), Nicolas BENMUSSA (left) and Charles CLEMENT (middle)

distillery teamPoster by Gautier PIECHOTTA (right) and Ferdinand SIMON (left)

awearness team

awearness 2

awearness 1aWEARness mask prototypes by Sibylle PERRIER (middle), Edouard REGNIER (left) and Maryam SAAD (right)

Video of the MAP.US concept presented by Vlad DARABAN and Diana DURAND-RUEL

Momo Paris: the multiple facets of mobile usage in Africa

On May 19, 2014, Yasmine Abbas (AMP co-founder) gave a 10 minutes presentation on AMP and AMP’s mobile phone application for makers in Africa at the Mobile Monday (MoMo) event held at the NUMA. Currently the team uses mobile phone to map fieldwork in Agbogbloshie. The AMP digital platform, yet to be developed, is thought to become a mobile learning and banking tool. Via the AMP digital platform, makers will be able to get information on e-waste, to share how to manuals and information on makers’ production–MADE IN AGBOGBLOSHIE–, to get training on (dis)assembly–we are very much inspired by the videos of the Khan Academy (ours will be filmed in the spacecraf)t. The digital platform is envisaged to become a commercial platform to sell makers’ production and make micro-finance transactions. We are working on the project–so don’t get caught by the use of a smart phone (which are increasingly available in Africa) to visualize the concept!

AMP MoMo Image produced by intern Yasmine Sarehane

During that event, UNICEF representatives mentioned the Rio Youth Mapping project developed in collaboration with the MIT Mobile Experience Lab.

This project explores tools to help youth in Rio de Janeiro build impactful, communicative digital maps using mobile and web technologies. A phone application allows youth to produce a realtime portrait of their community through geo-located photos and videos, organized in thematic maps.

This project is evidently of great inspiration to us as we are developing maps to visualize fieldwork conducted in Agbogbloshie.

M&D Mid-Review

Dk Osseo-Asare, Low Design Office principal and AMP (Agbogbloshie Makerspace Platform) co-founder was in Paris for the M&D mid review (Semester 6 course taught by Yasmine Abbas) carried out in parallel with that of Make (S5 course taught by Marie Aquilino). Having conducted fieldwork in Agbogbloshie for over 6 months and with his 7 years of experience working on the informal sector, community participation and kiosk culture, Osseo-Asare provided students with invaluable insights on usability, community needs and buy-in. Amongst the numerous projects presented were a hydroponic micro-farm (using old refrigerators) to grow tomatoes (S6), a “water distillery” to extract cleaner water from polluted rain water (S6), a gas mask called “awearness” to provide protection against toxic fumes (S6) and a concept for a green wall to create safer enclaves in Agbogbloshie (S5). S6 Students had to show early prototypes and a poster (akin to those presented at scientific conference) to explain their design.

M&D mid review

hydroponic Prototype of a hydroponic micro-farm by Oscar AGUILA, Nicolas BENMUSSA and Charles CLEMENT (S6)

The Emergent Vernacular


The M&D seminar organized a round table on the emergent vernacular.

Behrang Fakharian, vernacular architecture expert and Sénamé Koffi A., architect and anthropologist, co-founder of the association L’Africaine d’Architecture and the Woelab, the first makerspace in Togo, have shared their respective experiences to explore the hypothesis that vernacular architecture and “open-source” design have comparable modes of production such as the peer-to-peer transmission of knowledge or the creation of “architecture without architectes”.

The Makers and Development seminar is a semester 6 course taught by Yasmine Abbas, Professeur Associé at l’Ecole Spéciale d’Architecture. People of the seminar MAKE, a semester 5 course taught by Marie Aquilino at l’ESA, joined the round table. The M&D and MAKE seminars are organized as a vertical offering to explore in depth issues of making in complex contexts.

We filmed the conference and we hope to share it with you very soon!

Meanwhile, find some readings/viewings on the neo-vernacular here and here.


[ Original post by Yasmine Abbas]

12-13 April 2014, “student seminar S6 Makers & Development (M & D) taught by Yasmine Abbas and seminar S5 Make taught by Marie Aquilino had the opportunity to participate in the hackathon organized by the NUMA (first space Co-working in Paris) and CNES . The event took place at fablab the Digital Crossroads 2 of the Cité des Sciences (with stunning views of the Geode!). Students are divided into three interdisciplinary teams to meet NASA challenges that republishes a series of challenges organized into five themes: robotics, technologies related to space, space travel, observation of asteroids and the planet earth.

Hexafield TeamHexafield Team from left to right – Frederic Grandjean, Nicolas Benmussa (ESA S6), Charles Clement (ESA S6) and Yasmine Sarehane (S9) whose work focuses on the degree of lunar habitat © Guilhem Boyer

A team worked on the deflection of an asteroid, the other on creating a budget small satellite and the third generation of a deployable greenhouse on Mars. The educational goal was to immerse themselves in the world of a fablab pourproduire in one weekend a coherent concept in collaboration with people from different worlds and discussion with teachers from both seminars (coaches mobilized for the weekend) and robotics experts (including Olivier Grossat who spoke to ESA for a conference and workshops on 3D printers), computer and user experience.

This is the public, visitors to the city of sciences and participants hackathon, which ultimately decided the two winning teams from the five who competed. Students were part of the ESA-teams HEXAFIELD Send “flowers” on Mars (the greenhouse on Mars) and SWARM EXPLORER (satellite budget)!

Yasmine Sarehane (S9), Nicolas Benmussa (S6), Charles Clément (S6), Kawtar Sayegrih (S5) and Muriel Ferneini (S5) now “galactic problem solvers” were among the shortlisted for the support of the NASA teams and each received a membership card for one year fablab the Cité des Sciences. ”

Read more .

The value of un-making

Friday March 14, 2014, the M&D class went to an e-waste dis-assembly workshop at La Rockette Libre, a collective comprising of open-source associations. Thank you to Cyril, co-founder of Electrocycle, the association which organized the event. Find the list of items that Cyril and his friends have already catalogued and don’t hesitate to join them every second Friday of the month to contribute!

This workshop was pedagogical for various reasons:

  • It de-emphasized the high level know-how needed to dis-assembly
  • It made participants realize that as the electrical and electronic equipment becomes obsolete, few parts could be reused for electronic mash-up, some could be kept to repair similar equipments (for example keeping a special connection that could be faulty in another device)
  • Participants realized that while sorting appeared essential, it did require a thorough record of process and organization (number or weight of the pieces collected, step-by-step dis-assembly manual)
  • It became clear that given the wide range of brands and models, keeping parts for future use necessitates storage facilities – screws could be sorted out by type and size (size number to be found by comparing them to these found in stores)
  • Un-making or “reverse engineering” is a valuable learning process, which can also be a fun activity
  • It taught us about the importance of saving resources and doing so in the safest manners as possible–thanks to the experts who came along

Following the session, a team of students comprised of Nicolas Benmussa, Charles Clément and Oscar Aguila produced a short video entitled “In E-waste We Trust” and describing how the dis-assembly process went.

This video is not yet a step by step tutorial but it makes us think that it could be. In the context of Agbogbloshie, where not everyone speaks the same language or where many are illiterate, video tutorials could be a medium for delivering basic understanding of e-waste handling much like the videos of the Khan Academy which deliver knowledge to students around the globe.

unmake 3 unmake 5