NLÉ Architects, led by Nigerian architect Kunlé Adeyemi, made headlines this week as their Makoko Floating School turned heads at this year’s anticipated Venice Biennale. An innovative prototype, the structure is perched on stilts on the Lagos Lagoon, where the informal city of Makoko has been similarly constructed, prompting its recognition as a unique, floating slum. The firm was awarded the Silver Lion for a Promising Young Participant in the international exhibition, Reporting From the Front. The jury, seeing the similarities between the school’s intended location and the biennale’s famous home, called the structure “a powerful demonstration, be it in Lagos or in Venice, that architecture, at once iconic and pragmatic, can amplify the importance of education.”
Completed in 2013, the original school in Makoko was created with the intention of generating a sustainable, ecological, alternative building system and urban water culture for the teeming population of Africa’s coastal regions. “As a pilot project, it has taken an innovative approach to address the community’s social and physical needs in view of the impact of climate change and a rapidly urbanizing African context,” reads the project description. The construction of the ingenious solution was supported by the United Nations Development Program and the Heinrich Boell Foundation from Germany and was designed to be created with local materials to produce architecture that applies to the needs of people and reflects the culture of the community. Wood is the main material as the structure, support and finishing for the completed school which stands in a unique triangular A-Frame Section.
The classrooms are located on the second tier, enclosed with adjustable louvered slats, and surrounded by public green space, there is a playground below, and the roof contains an additional open air classroom. NLÉ has also employed strategies to make the floating architecture sustainable by applying PV cells to the roof and incorporating a rainwater catchment system. The completed structure rests on a base of typical plastic barrels to make it float and the same barrels can be used to store excess rainwater. The school is just the first phase of the on-going project, which will be supplemented by residential units designed in the same way to accommodate the needs of the self-sustaining, self-governing Makoko fishing community.
However, the whole Makoko settlement is under threat – in recent years, Lagos authorities, alongside real estate developers, have realized the commercial potential of the waterfront area. In July 2012, Nigerian government officials destroyed dozens of residences after giving residents 72 hours’ notice of eviction. The destruction of this historic community was in order to redevelop what is now seen as prime waterfront. Nearly 3,000 people had been rendered homeless. Later, the government announced a plan to redevelop and regenerate the area, though it still remains to be seen whether this will be to the benefit of existing residents or if they’ll be forcibly relocated.