Today Agbogbloshie scrap dealers, together with Ashesi University students from Kobby Ankomah-Graham‘s seminar, helped Belgian-Beninese artist Fabrice Monteiro and Senegalese designer Doulsy scout locations for their Prophecy II photo series. The Prophecy I series probed the issue of environmental pollution by evoking spirits of the earth, dispatched to either plead or warn humans to change our ways lest we kill our mother planet. Per panel discussion with Fabrice at Ashesi, the Prophecy II series will be a diptych contrasting the needless excess of planned obsolescence against the devastating human and environmental destruction used to extract the resources from which our electronic devices are produced out of the earth.

It was noticeable and community members confirmed that you now see only smaller stockpiles of circuit boards and plastic monitor cases, for example, because buyers are more consistent and frequent. What AMP affirms about Fabrice’s project is that it is creating a space—mythical but real at the same time—reminding us all to take action now, before its too late to save this planet.


Fabrice testing frames and Doulsy smiling upon a scrap dealer’s reveal of treasure trove of VHS cassette tapes (part of the costume design):


A smokeless future for Agbogbloshie

In line with the intention to make tools for the remaking of the Agbogbloshie electronic landscape, the AMP team, in collaboration with Rafa Font of Recyhub, met at the Kokrobite institute to assemble the Hal Watts’ E-source– a man- powered copper cable shredder. The two day session commenced in high spirits with each person, contributing to the assembly. Slowly but surely, all the parts came together and the basic functions tested. At the end, a few observations were made about its applicability to Agbogbloshie, and these were recorded as notes for the designers to consider.

Hal Watt first design
Hal Watts’ first design of E-source.

First developed as a bicycle with cable shredding capabilities, this new prototype, still maintains the idea of pedaling as a means to power the machine. It however deviates from the initial literality of a bicycle. The design was inspired by the problem of burning copper cables in Agbogbloshie, which Hal visited, to gain firsthand experience of the situation. The AMP and Recyhub teams were joined by students from the college of engineering KNUSTs creativity group. These are engineering students with an interest in e-waste processing.

The AMP team started by unpacking and positioning the frame, and then the tubes for water were appropriately placed. The next in line was the turning wheel, which we placed in the part of the frame allocated for it. We then proceeded to hang the chains on the cassettes and connected it to the main shredder blades which sits at the centre of the frame. This was followed by the pedals which we bolted in place. After testing to see that the pedal functions as it should, we proceeded to install the processing trough and then tested once again to ensure that it moved when pedaled. We then adjusted the seat until it was in the right position and then bolted it. Following this, we placed the receptacle for the cables over the blades, filled a barrel with water and then proceeded to fill it with cables and began testing the entire set up.

The second prototype of the E-source assembled in Kokrobite by AMP and Recyhub
The second prototype of the E-source assembled in Kokrobite by AMP and Recyhub

On the second day of the workshop, the function and assembly process were explained and tested further in collaboration with students from the Ashesi University, who were in Kokroite to engage in various forms of maker workshops. They found the experience thrilling and enthusiastically asked a lot of questions. Among the questions that came up were:

  • Is it possible to find a low energy way of mechanizing the system?
  • How easy or otherwise will it be for people in Agbogbloshie to assemble the machine themselves?
  • Will the volumes of cables shredded by the machine compare favorably with volumes currently processed in Agbogbloshie by means of burning?
Students from Ashesi University learning about the Esource.
Students from Ashesi University learning about the Esource.

In terms of future steps, the AMP team hopes that, further studies in collaboration with stakeholders such as Recyhub,  the creativity group and Hal & Watt (inventors of the e-source) will help to advance this initiative until such a time that, all e-waste workers in Agbogbloshie have a version installed and the burning of cables no longer occurs.

See more pictures on Flickr

Archibots: Re-making Agbogbloshie (intro session)

The first session of the Archibots workshop came off as scheduled on the May 30th 2014. The event was well attended by people from various disciplinary backgrounds. There were engineers, architects, CAD technicians, business men & women and lecturers as well as from various nationalities, such as Spain and the Netherlands. This was the introductory session for Archibots, a design workshop to prototype architecture robots for Agbogbloshie.  As part of the event, all three collaborating organizations (tap, AMP and MESH) made presentations on what they do. AMP co-lead DK Osseo-Asare, introduced participants to Agbogbloshie E-waste circuitry, which is the context for the architecture robots to be designed and the key design concepts as far as AMP is concerned. Some of the videos that were selected to provide inspiration for participants can be found here . The team is eagerly awaiting the next phase which is the design session scheduled for June 7th 2014 at Hub Accra. This promises to be just as exciting as the May 30th event. Thanks to our friend and ally, media partners MESH Ghana for compiling footage of the event, which can be found at Archibots: Remaking Agbogbloshie.


Archibots: Re-making Agbogbloshie

Re-making Agbogbloshie is a tap:Build design workshop conducted as part of the Agbogbloshie Makerspace Platform QAMP series of maker workshops. MESH Ghana is the media partner.

AMP approach contends that (domains of) architecture and electronics have converged. At such a moment — if we can make open, democratic and collective the capability of manipulating materials from the level of chemistry up, by means of digital technology, we can move beyond the notion of “e-waste”. Electrical and electronic equipment (EEE or 3E), old or new, constitute a vital stream of raw material for the global production chain. In particular, while there is fundamental overlap with the elemental “stuff” of digital space, it is equally important to note that the majority of EEE materials* are generally recyclable such as plastics, steel, aluminium, copper, or other specialized or high-value materials.

Re-making Agbogbloshie is a collaboration between Agbogbloshie Makerspace Platform (AMP) and The Architects’ Project (tap:). The workshop seeks to design and prototype practicable architectural interventions — at the level of equipment — that can inform the discourse of industrial landscapes like Agbogbloshie scaled through kiosk-size 3E materials processing machines, i.e. micro-industrial digital fabrication bots.

Re-making Agbogbloshie design workshop is an exploration of small-scale architectural interventions that operate more than as kinetic micro- shelters — they additionally include “robotic” or electronic systems and tool/equipment functions. The workshop seeks to design “architecture robots” that could assist humans in processing 3E materials, phytoremediation of the contaminated landscape and actively supporting the Agbogbloshie lifecycle.

Agbobloshie: Every year, tons of electronic waste arrives on the shores of Ghana. A huge proportion of this deluge of e-waste flows through Agbogbloshie, where a vibrant community of e-waste workers and makers reuse, recycle and upcycle end-of-life electrical and electronic equipment. However, some of the crude methods used for dismantling e-waste and processing scrap (such as burning wires and cords to recover the copper) are highly polluting: they negatively impact the health of e-waste workers and have led to Agbogbloshie’s notorious position as “the most polluted place on Earth” for 2013, according to Green Cross Switzerland and the nonprofit Blacksmith Institute (USA).

E-waste: E-waste or Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) is typically portrayed as highly toxic old computers, televisions, etc. that are “dumped” in poor countries by rich countries, in violation of the Basel Convention (an international treaty which expressly prohibits such forms of international transhipment of WEEE). While it is true that e-waste contains hazardous materials, and that improper handling and disposal of these materials can greatly pollute the environment and compromise public health, it does not negate the fact that the materials embedded within e-waste are incredibly valuable. In fact, e-waste — considered pound-for-pound as a “raw material” of the global production chain — is among the most valuable on the planet: one ton of old mobile phones has 100X the concentration of precious metals like gold and silver than does an equivalent amount of ore mined from the earth.

Architecture: Usually when most people think about (the practice of) “architecture”, they think about high-end residences or large-scale projects. In Africa, these are typically the only kind of construction projects (along with smaller interventions by the government and NGOs) that have large enough budgets to pay the professional service fees of architects. This leaves the majority of workers and construction works on the continent, which occur in what social scientists call the “informal sector”, outside the design domain of architects, or the scope of formal architecture. The point of departure for this workshop is to propose that this default strategy for Africa’s built environment misses the point. If to date architecture has had limited success in re-configuring the African terrain, perhaps it is time to invert the approach: try to introduce innovation at the bottom, and let it spread.

* EEE- or 3E-materials: Consider electrical and electronic equipment, at all condition levels, as a raw material for global production chain. 3-E materials are a broader and more inclusive range of materials compared to e-materials, e.g. electronics materials based on silicon or other semiconducting materials, and such materials in aggregate, i.e. a circuit board.

Video highlights: