A concern for the widespread problem of building collapse in Ghana led Festival to a PhD at RMIT, researching wider social factors that may influence building failures.
When I was doing my Master of Science (MSc) in Denmark, I intended to research something related to political economy, because I had an interest in international development. But when I was completing my MSc, building collapse incidents started to make the news in Ghana, and I became deeply concerned about the human and economic costs that follow such incidents.
For some time now, cities in Ghana have had to contend with widespread cases of building collapse. When these tragic incidents happen, overwhelmed by the human lives and property destroyed, the conversation usually tends towards unpacking the immediate physical or technical causes of the failure.
I started to look into the literature and found that structural failure is an under-researched area in Ghana, and most of the inquiries into building collapse were done by engineers, architects and other physical scientists who naturally skewed the findings towards technical or scientific explanations. With my interdisciplinary background, I suspected that there could be more to the problem.
Catastrophic events – accidents, disasters and system failures – do not spring into existence all of a sudden; there are always preconditions to any failure, some of which may originate years before the actual collapse. My research seeks to conceptualise the broader connections in society that account for the country’s high vulnerability in building collapses.
When I saw the RMIT Global Cities Research Institute’s “Human Security and Disasters in Cities” program, it was clear to me that my research aligns well with the program’s focus, and I could be sure to receive exceptional supervision and other support services to conduct my study. It was an easy choice.
I’m hopeful that my study will provide a better understanding of how building collapse incidents emerge from the socioeconomic, cultural and institutional forces underpinning the design, construction, utilisation and adaptation of buildings in cities. The study may also provoke further conversation in the academic community to stimulate a multilayered approach to the investigation and discussion of building failures.
Interdisciplinary thinking enables a critical perspective and much more rigorous tools for problem-solving.