Despite multiple housing crises, the need for safe shelter and the tremendous cost, both in labour and construction, the sheer quantity of unoccupied and abandoned buildings in almost every town and city never fails to shock. Limbo Accra recasts the unfinished and discarded shells of building projects as potential actors in an adaptable, active and resource-efficient future. This vision is shared across two distinct, distant but overlapping exhibits, at the Sharjah Architecture Triennial and at the Chicago Biennale of Architecture.
KOOZ As a spatial design studio founded in Accra, Ghana in 2018, Limbo Accra was born out of an urge to respond to the large number of uncompleted building projects scattered throughout the city and the wider West African region. To what extent can one talk about these fragments as an architectural typology? What do they signify?
LIMBO ACCRA For us, incomplete and abandoned buildings symbolise the intersection of local and international efforts in urban development. They embody the aspirations of creating modern, functional spaces but are often left in a state of limbo due to a variety of factors, including economic, political, and cultural challenges. In fact, neither the architecture of these building sites nor the struggles they represent are not limited to the borders of Africa; they constitute a global phenomenon. They offer a narrative of both the ambitions and setbacks in efforts towards modernisation.
Neither the architecture of these building sites nor the struggles they represent are not limited to the borders of Africa; they constitute a global phenomenon.
KOOZ The studio approaches such sites with the ambition of reinterpreting their meaning and reimagining their futures. What is the potential of looking at these structures in a state of “limbo”? Do you have a stance on how you approach each site — for instance, as an isolated artefact or as situated within a wider regional narrative?
LA Approaching these structures in a state of "limbo" grants us the potential to reimagine and repurpose. Rather than relegating them to the realm of failure, we choose to view them within the context of a larger global narrative — recognising their built potential as not only platforms for individual creative expression but also as opportunities to address the challenges in our urban environments. This approach, guided by a vision of transformation and renewal, breathes life into such liminal spaces, enhancing their cultural, societal, and architectural evolution and weaving them into the fabric of our urban landscapes.
Approaching these structures in a state of "limbo" grants us the potential to reimagine and repurpose. Rather than relegating them to the realm of failure, we choose to view them within the context of a larger global narrative.
KOOZ In November itself, Limbo Accra will present two very distinctive projects, at the second Sharjah Architecture Triennial and the Chicago Architecture Biennial. How do these two prominent yet well-distanced exhibitions demonstrate the group’s approach?
LA Our contributions at the Sharjah Architecture Triennial and the Chicago Architecture Biennial reflect our commitment to addressing global urban challenges, while highlighting the unique character of each context through a site-specific and digital intervention. The exhibitions are distinctive and demonstrate our ability to adapt and respond to diverse environments and audiences. They are intended to showcase our approach to creating space and our capacity to engage with both local and international architectural discourse.
KOOZ SUPER LIMBO is a public pavilion set within the former Sharjah Mall, comprising no less than 64,753 m2 of vacant retail, entertainment and leisure space. What do you mean by SUPER in this maximal, consumer-oriented location? How does SUPER translate into the narrative you are reshaping for this space?
LA The title SUPER LIMBO is born from the collaboration of our design studio, Limbo Accra, and the textile and fashion design label, Super Yaya, in partnership with architect Anne-Lise Agossa. Our intervention in Sharjah Mall can be described as maximalist as it is the largest unfinished building project in the emirate. Our aim is to not celebrate its disuse or vacancy, but rather amplify its potential in its current state, contributing to a narrative of resilience and adaptability.
Our aim is to not celebrate its disuse or vacancy, but rather amplify its potential in its current state, contributing to a narrative of resilience and adaptability.
KOOZ Into the Void is a catalogue of unfinished structures throughout Ghana, Sierra Leone, Senegal, and Nigeria; these are documented through photogrammetry, thus enabling viewers to explore sites creatively and across disciplines. How does the digital process of archiving complement the more “tangible” site specific installations and vice versa?
LA The catalogue or archive complements our site-specific installations by providing a digital layer of engagement and interaction. Our digital archive offers viewers the opportunity to engage with these structures remotely, fostering interdisciplinary exploration and creativity. It expands the reach of our physical installations and allows a wider audience to participate in the dialogue about these unfinished spaces, blurring the boundaries between the physical and digital worlds.
KOOZ Beyond critical and conceptual explorations, and considering the sheer quantity of completed building stock needed to house a growing global population by 2050 — the attendant materiality of this as well as the soil it would seal — how do real-world urgencies inform your thinking in terms of building and retrofitting?
LA In a world where many structures sit idle, we can't afford to let them go unused. Our practice promotes the importance of thinking through the lens of sustainable, adaptable, and resource-efficient design to meet our future demands. It encourages a careful evaluation of existing structures and their potential for repurposing, reducing the need for new construction.
Limbo Accra is a spatial design practice founded in 2018 by Dominique Petit-Frère and Emil Grip. Much of our work emerges from research and interdisciplinary design projects, rooted in the experimentation with the aesthetic and cultural significance of unfinished building projects in West African cities and beyond. With commissioned work and architectural proposals, we adopt an intuitive and future-ready approach to experience, material and space.
Federica Zambeletti is the founder and managing director of KoozArch. She is an architect, researcher and digital curator whose interests lie at the intersection between art, architecture and regenerative practices. In 2015 Federica founded KoozArch with the ambition of creating a space where to research, explore and discuss architecture beyond the limits of its built form. Parallel to her work at KoozArch, Federica is Architect at the architecture studio UNA and researcher at the non-profit agency for change UNLESS where she is project manager of the research "Antarctic Resolution". Federica is an Architectural Association School of Architecture in London alumni.