Makoko is a water-logged settlement in Lagos, home to about 250,000 people living mostly in makeshift structures on stilts. The main mode of transport is canoe, and the area is at constant risk of flooding, according to Kunlé Adeyemi, a Nigerian-born architect who now lives in Holland.
Some city officials want to tear the area down, saying it is unfit for habitation (or because real estate would be more valuable with upscale homes). But Adeyemi wants to keep building—just a little differently. Instead of stilts, he sees floating structures, with better access to power and fresh water, and more sustainable means of waste disposal.
His first project—what he calls a "seed to cultivate a new type of urbanism on water in African cities"—is a floating school. The three-story structure is 108 square feet at its base, and 33 feet high. It sits on a flotation deck made of 256 used plastic drums. And the body is all wood, which is sourced locally. The idea is to keep things relatively cheap: Adeyemi says building on water is "certainly cheaper than building on land".
The building is designed for about 100 students (aged 4 to 12), and has its own power system based around solar panels on the roof. There is rainwater harvesting capacity, and the school has its own toilet—something unusual for the area.
"Makoko is a settlement that people often drive by. I’ve driven by it myself for many years," Adeyemi says. "But I started to visit and I was inspired, shocked, and motivated by the environment. I asked if there was anything I could do, and they said the school was always flooding, and they needed an extension. So, that’s what we did."
Adeyemi describes the structure, which is nearly finished, as "very stable". And he says the children see nothing strange in taking a boat to class. "It has been exciting for them since we built the first platform. They love it, and are always around it."
More broadly, he sees the design as a way of "addressing issues that are larger and more prevalent in coastal African cities, where there is rapid urbanization and a shortage of housing, and you have energy and waste management issues, and the impact of climate change."
"There are urban strategies for dealing with sea level rises and flooding that are more infrastructure-related. But this is about flood-prone areas within cities that we can use for urbanization," he says.
Aside from Lagos, that could mean much of coastal West Africa—from Nigeria to Senegal. "We hope to be a catalyst and that a lot of other people will adopt similar systems to address climate change and flooding," Adeyemi says.