Age of Elegance: An Italianate Sobrado on the Gold Coast

by Courtnay Micots


Upon first glance, two-story buildings constructed in brick and stone in coastal Ghana appear to be British colonial homes. However, though their façades were inspired by British styles, these early colonial period residences were actually built for Africans. Russell House, completed in 1898, manifests a deliberately constructed hybrid style of architecture combining local elements—asymmetry, a courtyard plan and two-story compact massing—with the British Italianate style and Afro-Portuguese sobrado plan. The motivations for such cultural appropriations are complex and require a deep understanding of the social, political and economic contexts in which the houses were built in Ghana, formerly the Gold Coast. An examination of this new style exemplified in the Russell House will demonstrate how coastal elite architecture reflects status, modernity, and resistance to British colonization.

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Courtnay Micots is Assistant Professor of Art History, Florida A & M University. Previously she was an Andrew W. Mellon Postdoctoral Research Fellow at Wits Art Museum, University of the Witwatersrand.
Recent publications include “Status and Mimicry: African Colonial Period Architecture in Coastal Ghana,” Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians (March 2015), and “Carnival in Ghana: Fancy Dress 
Street Parades and Competition,” African Arts (Spring 2014)