Photos © 2014 NLÉ
And what is this extraordinary structure?
Why, a floating school of course. It is also a prototype building created by Nigerian-born architect, Kunle Adeyemi and his Amsterdam-based company NLÉ. Adeyemi has more plans too, ones that will relieve the dire conditions for the 100,000 people who currently live in this, Nigeria’s Makoko slum. The fishing settlement in Lagos Lagoon has been there since the 18th century. To cope with changing tidal levels, the shanties are built on stilts, rising from the lagoon mud; the main way to get around is by boat. There is zero sanitation, and consequently much disease. Life expectancy is reckoned to be less than 40 years.
For the past two centuries Makoko slum dwellers have adapted to tidal changes, but now climate change, with rising sea levels and increasingly extreme weather events, is putting them at grave risk.
Recently the Nigerian authorities have addressed their plight by demolishing many of the stilt-built dwellings, making the inhabitants homeless. There will be re-development naturally – not for the poor who have long lived there, but to replace their community with flashy lagoon-view high rises. Makoko as it stands is deemed a blot that must be erased. It is an interesting approach to social deprivation: to make it worse.
See instead Adeyemi’s vision:
Now doesn’t this make your heart sing? Homes to live for.
And here is where it begins:
Diagram courtesy of NLÉ.
Makoko floating school, then, is literally the flagship of NLÉ’s proposed waterborne city. The structure was designed and built in collaboration with the Makoko Waterfront Community and with input from Dutch naval architect, Erik Wassen. It is movable, and capable of dealing with storm surges and flooding. The triangular frame which is mounted on 256 floating plastic barrels makes it very stable and with a capacity to keep 100 people safe in storm conditions. PV cells on the apex generate solar power, and there are facilities to recycle organic waste and harvest rainwater. Most importantly of all, it was built using the techniques and skills of local craftspeople. It is a building that fits with people’s view of themselves. And it is beautiful.
Photo © 2014 NLÉ
The school has three levels with a capacity for 60 -100 pupils. The 1st level is an open play area for breaks and assembly. Out of school hours this space may be used by the community. Level 2 is an enclosed space for 2-4 classrooms, and Level 3 has a partially enclosed workshop space.
The only fly in the ointment of NLÉ’s scheme for Makoko’s regeneration is the fact that Nigerian authorities say the floating school is an illegal structure, and should not be there. NLÉ are currently in negotiation with Lagos state government and are said to be optimistic that no immediate action will be taken.
I for one hope that this African solution to an African problem will be seen for what it is – an amazingly wonderful, life-giving, life-enhancing scheme of which Nigeria should be heartily proud. The floating school addresses both present need and future uncertainty, and in ways that its community can reproduce and embrace. It has inherent sustainability. It is a pattern to build on, adapt, develop, replicate, but on an individual human scale that everyone can understand. And as time goes on, we may all have need to tap into some of NLÉ’s ingenuity if we wish to continue living well and safely on our home planet. Town Planning that gladdens my heart and gives me hope, and believe me, that does not often happen.
text copyright 2014 Tish Farrell
The Architectural Review Jan 2014