Ebenezer Kwabena Acquah

Cheng Taining & Ye Xianghan
1990 - 1992
reinforced concrete, dark grey granite, white tiles
11,896 square metres
Accra, Ghana
Wisdom Dzigbordi

Enhancing the visual culture landscape through architecture


Image 1: The National Theatre of Ghana, photograph by Wisdom Dzigbordi

Image 2: https://www.flickr.com/photos/yale_music/14343628212/ Source: Dana Astmann, under Creative Commons

Images 3 and 4: Ground plans, photographs by Cheng Taining, source: https://archnet.org/sites/1413/media_contents/15315



Structural developments of buildings that project the arts including visual culture in Ghana have received little scholarly attention since the country’s independence. The scarce information regarding building structure linked to the arts is scattered and chequered. This, perhaps, stems from the fact that the available literature seems inclined toward the patronage of art works and theatrical performances, music and dance, leaving out the visual cultural aspect of the building that host the performances and art works. This paper focuses on the artistic appreciation of the National Theatre of Ghana, its place in education, and how this edifice lights up the country’s architectural landscape. It adopts a narrative and descriptive approach by navigating the structure, size, interior, and exterior views of the building which is surrounded by visual images in the form of sculptural works.

Ebenezer Kwabena Acquah
Ebenezer Kwabena Acquah


This position paper seeks to draw readers’ attention to the relevance and recognition of the National Theatre of Ghana in the visual cultural landscape of Ghana.

The National Theatre of Ghana is a monumental edifice situated in the national capital, Accra, supported by the government, and devoted largely to productions and performances of actors and actresses, musical groups, among others (Wilson, 1988). Theatrical performances in the National Theatre are assets of the nation’s inheritance and present to the people artistic and creative thoughts and reflections of life. The establishment of the National Theatre of Ghana was, to a large extent, largely supported by the National Theatre Movement of the 1950’s by cultural experts like Efua Sutherland and Professor J. H. Kwabena Nketia (Agovi, 1990).


The National Theatre was completed on December 16, 1992, commissioned and handed over by the Peoples Republic of China to the Government of Ghana on December 30, 1992 (www.nationaltheatre.gov.gh/history/ retrieved 2020, August 7). The Theatre was designed to be used for people of all walks of life and diverse age groups. Since its commissioning, the National Theatre has hosted several performances and some exhibitions from both local and international communities and designed to promote the visual cultures in the heterogeneous global landscape.



Location, structure, and artistic appreciation

The boat-like building is located between Liberia Road and Independence Avenue in the central part of the city of Accra. Specifically, it is located near the junction of Liberia Road and Independence Avenue, and adjacent the Efua Sutherland Children’s Park.


The National Theatre building is made up of three distinct structural forms, with each structure housing its performance group/company. These are the National Theatre Players, National Dance Company, and the National Symphony Orchestra. A closer look at the entire structure reveals three distinct parts aside the structural forms stated earlier. The upper part portrays three boats joined together, supported by rectangular piers with curvy outward projections, and a rectangular base with entrance and exit openings. In fact, the entrances and windows seem to be carved out of the rectangular base. All the entrances are elevated from the ground level with a staircase. These stairs lead up to the glass entrances and into the building (https://3rdworldarchitecture.wordpress.com/2018/02/04/national-theatre-of-ghana/ retrieved 2020, August 7). The base is well-designed such that it creates a projection at the entrance that provides visitors with the needed protection from any bad weather.


national theatre ghana 02


National Theatre. Aerial view over National Theatre. Photograph by Cheng Taining, 1997.

Source: https://archnet.org/sites/1413/media_contents/15315



Above the base, there are distinct white forms. These forms taper up from the centre, where the three forms meet, towards the outside. The walls of these forms are curved inwards and lifted just above the solid base, with glass in between them, making the base and white form more distinct and reinforcing the differences between them. These forms are covered in small white tiles to give the building its shape and colour. A closer look at the shape of the National Theatre reveals a display of three boats/canoes or fishing vessels that meet at a central point, a meeting point that is structured in the form of a captain's bridge of a vessel. The entire structure is supported by curvy piers and rest on rectangular base as presented in the image above.


A careful study of the architectural ‘language’ of the National Theatre reveals a combination of Asian architecture of both interior and exterior structures and Ghanaian symbolic forms combined with boat construction. Generally, Chinese architecture is based on the relevance of local culture traditions of influence and adherence to hierarchy (Lianto, 2020). It prioritizes spatial designs with balanced symmetrical central pivot, with reverence for nature and aesthetics. Additionally, a dominant use of red portrays happiness and these are found in the interior decoration and special usage in the National Theatre.


The general curvy structure of the theatre provides a hint of Asian architecture. The seating space is segmented along stepped floors and the curvy structured ceiling is reminiscent of waves with openings defined by lighting systems. In fact, the use of sculptural forms and other Ghanaian art works combine effectively with the architectural structure to project the visual cultural landscape of the National Theatre.



Sculptures in the public space

Carefully displayed outside the National Theatre are sculptural forms executed by Ghanaian artists. An example is shown in the following image, a sculptural work showing a Sankofa, traditional imagery of Ghana.


national theatre ghana 03


Emefa Jewellery: "Sankofa", 2015. Presented by Values for Life NGO to the National Theatre. Size: 11 ft. high. Photograph by Wisdom Dzigbordi


The Sankofa symbolizes the essence of taking the opportunity to reflect on the past and applying significant and relevant ideas and developments. Thus, the past has something relevant that must be considered and used as part of contemporary practice.



Education and cultural relevance

The National Theatre of Ghana is a significant cultural centre in Accra, Ghana and the entire form of this visual cultural structure provides people from diverse walks of life a place for entertainment and relaxation. The building is a visual architectural icon for the city and is an influential hub for creative art performances. It therefore serves an important edifice in promoting the arts and providing both Ghanaian and other nationals a place to express their creativity.


Beside entertainment and relaxation, the theatre seeks to educate people and stakeholders (who periodically use the place) on the responsibility of the National Theatre of Ghana as a strong cultural institution that ensures the development of culture including the performing arts, and the need to respect cultural values among people. Through this education, the activities of the theatre are brought into focus, preserved, promoted and transmitted to the next generation for posterity and the promotion of visual culture across the world.







  • Agovi, K. E. (1990). The origin of literary theatre in colonial Ghana, 1920-1957. Research Review, 6(1), 1-22.
  • Frimpong, M. (2015). Towards an audience development plan for the National Theatre of Ghana. Unpublished Thesis. University of Ghana, Legon.
  • Lianto, F. (2020, August 9). Building structure system of Chinese architecture, past and present. Retrieved from https://www.academia.edu/33602498/BUILDING_STRUCTURE_SYSTEM_OF_CHINESE_ARCHITECTURE_PAST_AND_PRESENT
  • National Theatre of Ghana (2020). History of the National Theatre of Ghana. Retrieved on January 10, 2020 from http://www.nationaltheatre.gov.gh/history
  • Wilson, E. (1988). The theatre experience (4th ed.). New York: McGraw-Hill Book Company.
  • 3rdworldarchitecture.wordpress.com (2018, January 4). National Theatre of Ghana. Retrieved from https://3rdworldarchitecture.wordpress.com/2018/02/04/national-theatre-of-ghana/



published August 2020