Limbo Accra

The spatial design studio infuses architecture with art to transform unfinished structures in West Africa

WET exhibition in collaboration with artist with Araba Ankuma. Photography by Komla S. Darku

“We all need each other” is a phrase that suitably defines both the output and ethos of spatial design studio Limbo Accra. Founded by Dominique Petit-Frère and Emil Grip in 2018, the work of Limbo Accra is cyclical and non-wasteful as it operates amongst unfinished structures in West African cities; it puts the planet and its people first. By doing so, decaying buildings are given new narratives, while public spaces are provided for the local communities. Below, I chat to Dominique and Emil to find out more about their impactful work.

Can you begin by telling me a little about your backgrounds?

Our backgrounds are within urban development and education – so our approach to design and architecture has always been from an intuitive and autodidact perspective. The whole process for us has always been informed by the multicultural essence in our relation to each other, since we are constantly moving between Accra, Copenhagen and New York. We met in Ghana in 2014, but we didn’t form Limbo until 2018. In that sense Limbo is a culmination of all the experiences and ideas we had over those four year. 

WET exhibition in collaboration with artist with Araba Ankuma. Photography by Komla S. Darku

When we started Limbo Accra it was out of pure curiosity to transform and investigate the architectural and built conditions of modernising West African cities as we were keen on exploring the intersection between art, architecture and sustainability within this new-age context. The studio’s name is a nod to the many incomplete and since-abandoned buildings in Accra and other West African cities. 2018 was a truly transformative period in Accra and we both felt compelled to take action in that transformation. For us it was very evident that this large scale of uncompleted property developments littered around the city of Accra held a vast amount of opportunities for activations and conversation among the growing creative community and city at large. 

WET exhibition in collaboration with artist with Araba Ankuma. Photography by Komla S. Darku

WET exhibition in collaboration with artist with Araba Ankuma. Photography by Komla S. Darku

What’s your ethos as a studio, what types of projects do you usually like to work on? 

It’s not like we have a stiff value set at the studio, but more a set of current observations from society in general and the spaces we navigate in, that we choose to act and react to. Our practice exists in this fluid space between juxtapositions, because we never allow ourselves to be stagnant; Limbo is constantly evolving, morphing and growing. Essentially, we are simply here to question and investigate the reality of the world we see, and how we can be more intentional about our role within in it as spatial practitioners. 

We are quite selective about the projects we engage in. At the core of any of our projects is a story. We honestly see Limbo as a way of communicating stories through architecture. The fascinating thing about telling stories using architecture is the opportunity to materialise an idea in a simultaneously expressive and material way. That impact on society is immaculate. 

WET exhibition in collaboration with artist with Araba Ankuma. Photography by Komla S. Darku

You operate within unfinished buildings in Ghana and beyond, which is super interesting. Can you tell me more about this? 

So the Limbo sites are interesting for us in an African context because it poses the opportunity to bridge two societal issues within the urban landscape: extensive voided structures and lack of public space. Essentially we are experimenting with the idea of using these sites as soft activations for people to question the neighbourhoods and cities, asking “how are we being intentional in the way we design and create spaces for people?” 

How important is sustainability to your practice, and what does this mean in terms of how you approach a brief and the design process? 

Sustainability is important. We try to think of our approach to a project as regenerative. Our logic from the very beginning has always been to work with what already exists – to maximise the re-usage of what we already have, simply re-adapting what already is into a new meaning. 

WET exhibition in collaboration with artist with Araba Ankuma. Photography by Komla S. Darku 

Can you talk me through a recent project of yours?

We just wrapped up an amazing exhibition titled WET by Ghanaian-American artist Araba Ankuma. As an artist working internationally, Ankuma’s stories focus on the importance of perception and the need to shift it in order to illuminate the invisible narratives that bind us as human beings. Composing narrative through photography and collage, Ankuma acts as a tour guide, transporting viewers from existing perspectives to new perceptual ground. Our studio is always about collaborations and working together. The whole logic is that we all need each other, and that we all need a space. This is what we offer as Limbo. Everyone has something to gain by working together. 

WET exhibition in collaboration with artist with Araba Ankuma. Photography by Komla S. Darku

WET exhibition in collaboration with artist with Araba Ankuma. Photography by Komla S. Darku

Do you think the design industry is currently doing enough in terms of sustainability and the environment? Are you hopeful about the future? 

I mean, how can we define that? The world is such a big place with so many different spaces each within their own context. It’s obviously a part of the current discourse within the industry, which is positive, but the question of how intentional the movement is remains. The interesting thing about the environment and sustainability within architecture and design is the fact that it’s hard to see how anyone can ignore addressing those issues. People are starting to feel some of the consequences of the world changing, so the simple need for change will only increase. In that sense I’m hopeful. 

What’s next for you, any upcoming plans or projects that you can share?

Right now we are doing a few things with the Brooklyn Museum that will come out this summer. So stay tuned! 

Photography by Anthony Combder Badu

Photography by Anthony Combder Badu

Photography by Anthony Combder Badu


Thrifting in Accra

Creative director, designer and stylist Kusi Kubi discusses reworked garments and his Ghanaian label, PALMWINE IceCREAM

Accra is home to the biggest secondhand clothing market in the world. Twice weekly, Ghana’s capital becomes enlivened with those in search for hidden gems in its infamous Kantamanto Market – where over 30,000 traders gather to sell all sorts of thrifted treasures from food to spare parts for cars, and most notably, secondhand fashion imported from across seas in Europe. It’s a mammoth industry and one that sees locals revelling in the early hours to discover various ephemera and fashions, collecting and reviving what was once tossed and thrown. Kusi Kubi, a creative director based in Accra, is one of those collectors. 

Kusi hails from Osu, a neighbourhood in central Accra, and previously studied business at University of Westminster. It wasn’t long until he decided to flee the corporate world of banking and software development for a new career in fashion – “I just never thought it was a career path to focus on,” he tells me.

Now, Kusi runs PALMWINE IceCream, a Ghanaian fashion label that utilises a mix of reworked fabrics and materials, most of which is sourced from the market. In its second season, the latest collection is replete with neutral shapes and forms, sprinkles of shimmering gold fabrics, earthy tones, denims and metallic chain accessories. Indeed for the bold and daring, its these exact cut-out designs and striking ensembles that break down all preconceptions of what can be achieved under the name of sustainable fashion. Here, I chat to the creative about his empowering and ethical business, where he sources his garments, and what’s in store for the future of Accra’s fashion market.

What’s PALMWINE IceCREAM all about, and who do you see wearing the clothes?

I wanted to create a name that resembles the look, taste and feel of a tropical climate. PALMWINE IceCREAM is a blend of tastes and feelings, which are not necessarily meant to be combined, but once brought together exude a sense that is new and unfamiliar. PWIC stands for all the things that we are told or made to believe should not co-exist with one another. 

Almost every item in the collection is genderless. The brand is welcoming to anyone who feels a connection to our creative output. It definitely requires some element of confidence, but confidence is very subjective and we have garments which cater for all.

Where do you source your materials?

The denims and leathers from this collection are reworked. This season, there’s also a lot of linen and sheers harking back to the tropical West African origins of the brand. The jewellery and accessories are sourced from Italy, while the denims and leathers hail from Accra, by way of Europe – Kantamanto Market, West Africa’s biggest secondhand market. The denims are restored using non-chemical methods and customised by hand in the PWIC studios to add the signature visual sensibility to each piece. The production team behind the collection is all-Ghanaian and the pieces are finished in Accra, Ghana.

How important is sustainability to your work?

PALMWINE IceCREAM is built on a foundation of sustainability. Though not all garments are reworked, the denims, leathers and buttons are examples of the items reworked throughout the collection. It’s essential for me as a creative director to understand the direction the world is heading into, and to also understand the value of creating garments which really speak for itself. 

With Accra having one of West Africa’s biggest thrift markets, I can’t help but notice how many leftover garments are received on a weekly basis. It’s important for me to play my part somehow to reduce further mass consumption. Our Aim at PWIC is not to saturate the market but produce clothing for people who believe in what we do and stand for.

What items can be found at Kantamanto Market?

You can find anything from Rick Owens to Topshop; I think that’s what makes the market special. Twice a week they receive new arrivals from all over the world. The trick is to get there early to ensure you get the special goodies before everyone arrives. The selection process can be intense but finding that one archive piece can be rewarding. The market is divided into sections: denim, leather, vest, shirts and dungarees etc. A whole day can be spent there easily.

Where do you see the future of fashion heading, specifically in the context of Accra?

We’ve seen some fashion houses merge seasons into one as a way of reducing waste or improving their sustainability league. I believe consumption will reduce but not drastically. There will be a need for quality over quantity, and most people will lean towards brands which have some sort of sustainability approach to their designs. 

The future of fashion in Accra is developing at a good pace, there are a few startup labels, like PWIC, thriving to make an impression within the creative world. However, there’s also the need for our art ministers to believe and invest into the young creative minds here, because there’s too much talent out here waiting to explode.

Photographer: @kofmotivation
Creative and styling: @kusikubi
Grooming: @giselle_makeup using Pat McGrath
Style Assistant: @shineorgocrazyy
Photo Assistant: @_thedotse
Producer: @instabryte @luduproductions_
Prod Assistant: @zongostudios

Secret City: Accra

Port speaks to the executive chef at the Villa Monticello Hotel about her favourite places to eat and relax in Accra, Ghana. Nestled in the vibrant Airport region, it is an oasis of calm that hums with heat and excitement

You have to try some real Ghanaian food while in Accra. Fufu with soup and either fish or meat is a good place to start, and banku (a fermented cassava and corn dumpling) with pepper sauce and fried fish is as real as it gets. Other things to look out for at restaurants and chop-bars are Gari Foto; Kenkey with fried fish and pepper sauce; Tuo zaafi; Ampesi with either garden egg stew or palava sauce.

Accra is a real city on the sea and no trip is complete without a visit to one of our paradise beaches. Labadi, Laboma and Sakumono beaches are all within easy reach of the hotel. If you want a proper day out you can get boat trips around the beautiful Lake Volta.

There is so much great culture and things to visit in this busy city. Kwame Nkrumah Museum and Accra Art Gallery showcase new and old visual treat and if you want to buy some souvenirs and see the real way to shop in Accra then head to one of our markets. Mokola or Madina markets are a good starting point. You might want to relax with a cold Club or Star beer and a plate of food at one of these local bars: Asanka locals, Gold Coast Restaurant or Yenkodi.

Ghana has several colonial-era forts, left over from the transatlantic slave trade. You must make the time to visit at least one of these and learn about our history from one of the knowledgeable guides. James Fort in on coast in central Accra but there are more dotted all along our shoreline. Notable ones to see are at Cape Coast and Elmina.

Most importantly in your visit is to chill out and enjoy an evening of cocktails or ice-cold beers. We have a cool courtyard bar at Villa Monticello to shelter from the late afternoon sun or the hot nights. Bars open quickly In Accra but these three are always great for night out: +233, Blooms bar, Epo bar.

Port looks at What to Wear on Holiday, Summer 2019