Floating School Brings Hope to Nigerian Shantytown


Makoko floating schoolAlong the coast of Lagos, Nigeria, lies the Makoko floating slum, a former fishing settlement dating back to the 18th century and now home to an estimated 100,000 residents living in stilt houses.  Despite steady economic growth in Nigeria over the last decade, quality of life in Makoko remains extremely low. The community has no formal infrastructure, no drainage or sewage system and no recognized legal rights to their properties. To make matters worse, the entire community is served by a single English primary school that is frequently rendered unusable due to heavy rainfall and flooding.

In response to these challenges, Nigerian architect Kunlé Adeyemiand his Lagos- and Amsterdam-based firm NLÉ have designed a cheap and highly innovative floating school.  The three-story, A-frame structure is built from locally-sourced materials and mounted on recycled plastic barrels that adapt to changing water levels.  The first floor is comprised of a multi-purpose community space and playground, and the second and third floors contain enclosed classroom and workshop spaces that can hold up to 100 students, even during poor weather conditions. And that’s not all. The eco-friendly design also includes solar panels built into the roof and a rain harvesting system that powers the building’s toilets.

makoko_structure diagram

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While the floating school project was first undertaken in 2011, NLÉ’s efforts were expedited when Nigerian government officials began destroying Makoko homes in 2012. The slum had been deemed ‘environmentally hazardous’, which resulted in forced evictions and the demolition of roughly 500 homes. After promoting the Makoko Floating School pilot project, Adeyemi was able to hold off the government`s resettlement plans. Construction of the prototype was completed in March 2013 thanks to support from the United Nations Development Programme, the Federal Ministry of Environment and the Heinrich Böll Foundation.

NLEs long-term vision - community of floating buildingsThe volatile situation in Lagos is seen throughout Africa where rapid urbanization and climate change are posing major social and environmental threats to coastal cities. In Lagos alone, the population is estimated to reach 40 million people within the next few decades, which points to the urgent need for innovation. NLÉ’s hope with the Makoko Floating School prototype is to develop a sustainable, ecological and alternative building system and urban water culture that can be scaled up to meet the needs of other African coastal populations.

The Makoko Floating School design has been globally praised and has recently been shortlisted for the Design of the Year 2014 award by London’s Design Museum. But the school represents only the first of three phases of this ground-breaking project; phase two and three aim to see Makoko converted into a sustainable floating community made up of interlocking and freestanding floating homes.

For more information, visit NLÉ’s website here or watch the project overview video below. Check here for more innovative ideas in the education sector.


Courtney Mollenhauer

Courtney Mollenhauer

Courtney is a writer and development professional based in Toronto, Canada.

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