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February 2016

In a village stricken with poverty, the Makoko Floating School in Lagos serves as an educational model of how to build prosperous communities on the water.

At the heart of Africa’s second most populous city Lagos, Nigeria, sits the aquatic old fishing village of Makoko. It’s a sprawling community that has no land, no roads and no formal infrastructure to support its day-to-day survival. Although, what it does have is a solution to some of the city’s major climate change problems. The community houses one of the most innovative schools in the world, the Makoko Floating School, a three-storey school resting on barrels in the ocean.

Unlike other housing units in Makoko which are built on stilts, the school is a floating structure that adapts to the tidal changes and varying water levels, making it invulnerable to flooding storm surges while being designed to use renewable energy to recycle organic waste and to harvest rainwater.


Land reclamation in Nigeria has been a controversial issue over the last few years, following plans for developments built on land reclaimed from the Atlantic Ocean. While the debate rages, the Makoko Floating School offers an alternative to land reclamation.

The school is a prototype building for the proposed Lagos Water Communities Project and African Water Cities research project undertaken by NLÉ, an Amsterdam based architecture firm deeply invested in climate change. Both projects explore challenges and opportunities in an urban and climate change setting for water-based communities throughout Africa.

The school, designed by Kunlé Adeyemi, architect, Founder and Principal of NLÉ aims to generate a sustainable, ecological, alternative building system and urban water culture for the teeming population of Africa’s coastal regions.

Born and raised in Nigeria, Adeyemi is one of Africa’s most prolific architects whose passion for creative architecture, design and urbanism for Africa and other developing regions drove him to find practical solutions for the impoverished community of Makoko.

Adeyemi volunteered to work with the community to meet one of their needs: the expansion of a nursery and primary school built on reclaimed land. The school was inadequate, dilapidated and prone to serious flooding that frequently hindered the children’s access to education.

“Makoko has been served by one English speaking primary school, built on uneven reclaimed land, surrounded by constantly changing waters. Like many homes in Makoko, this has rendered the primary school building structurally precarious and susceptible to recurrent flooding. Sadly, the inability of the building to effectively withstand the impact of increased rainfall and flooding has frequently threatened local children’s access to their basic need – the opportunity of education,” he says, adding that in response to the problem NLÉ developed the prototype to serve as a school, whilst being scalable and adaptable to other uses such as a community hub, health clinic, market, entertainment centre or general housing.

At the moment an estimated 100,000 people reside in Makoko in housing units built on stilts. “In many ways Makoko epitomises the most critical challenges posed by urbanisation and climate change in coastal Africa. At the same it also inspires possible solutions and alternatives to the invasive culture of land reclamation.”

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