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Can Floating Architecture Save This Nigerian Slum?

Architects NLE are putting the finishing touches on a three-story, 2,300-square-foot floating school for 100 students in Lagos.

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NLÉ

The usual approach to building in a flood zone is to put everything on stilts, as many residents of Rockaway, Queens, are considering in the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy. That’s also been the approach in the slum settlement of Makoko in Lagos, Nigeria, where many residents live in illegal wood shanties propped up on stilts, accessible only by canoe. Recently the slum and its population of roughly 250,000 Nigerians have been a target of a government that sees the settlement as an eyesore and an impediment to Lagos’s metamorphosis into a modern megacity of 40 million. Last summer the government went on an anti-slum campaign, sending out forces to cut the houses’ stilts with machetes.

But the Nigerian-born, Netherlands-based architect Kunlé Adeyemi sees potential in the lagoon as a future site of a sustainable floating community. For his opening gambit, Adeyemi and his firm, NLÉ, are putting the finishing touches on a three-story, 2,300-square-foot floating school for 100 students between the ages of 4 and 12. Constructed from locally sourced wood and a base of 256 used plastic drums, the new school features enclosed classrooms on the second level and an open-air classroom on the third floor, all anchored by a waterside playground and green space. The Makoko school, which held a preview celebration earlier this month, completes the first phase of NLÉ’s plan to erect a livable city on the lagoon.

With rooftop solar panels and rainwater harvesting, the school will have better access to power and light than Makoko’s existing stock. (It will also have a toilet, a rare amenity in the settlement.) As Adeyemi told Co.Exist recently, building on water can actually be cheaper than building on land. Plus, a network of floating structures like the ones NLÉ proposes can be calibrated to respond to worsening flood conditions brought about by climate change.

Phase two of NLÉ’s plan calls for the construction of floating houses, which can interlock and form larger groups.

To help its structures respond to rising floodwaters, NLÉ is using an innovation by the Japanese company Air Danshin Systems similar to this earthquake-proofing technology, which creates a cushion of air at the base of a house. Sensors in Adeyemi’s floating structures detect environmental changes and activate a compressor that pumps air into a buffer zone at the building’s base.

The design addresses many of coastal Africa’s urban issues at once, from rapid urbanization to housing shortages and energy needs, Adeyemi told Co.Exist. "We hope to be a catalyst and that a lot of other people will adopt similar systems to address climate change and flooding," he said.

NLÉ constructed the school’s base out of 256 plastic drums.


All images courtesy of NLÉ. Top image: NLÉ’s proposal for a floating community to improve slum conditions in the lagoon settlement of Makoko in Lagos, Nigeria.

This post originally appeared on Architizer, an Atlantic partner site.

About the Author

  • Lamar Anderson is a San Francisco–based freelance writer. Her work has appeared in Architectural Record, ARTnews, the Hairpin, and Salon.