The Makoko Floating School Project

Floating school

In a world where changing climate conditions are seeing the rise of sea levels and increased rainfall, disadvantaged waterfront communities are bearing the brunt of consequent flooding and land loss. Makoko, the largest informal settlement in Lagos, Nigeria, is one such community. Teetering atop Lagos Lagoon, its wooden structures balanced on stilts stretch out several kilometers over the oily water. The only means of transport are the canoes that bustle along the waterways in between buildings.

Makoko, Lagos Nigeria

Makoko, Lagos Nigeria

Life in Makoko

Life in Makoko

Children of Makoko

Children of Makoko

In Makoko, major flooding occurs three or four times per year lasting up to four days at a time and causing widespread destruction and displacement. The residents of Makoko lack effective coping strategies for the flooding beyond raising their houses on stilts. But as stilts are static they provide limited protection against the surging waters.

When Nigerian-born architect Kunlé Adeyemi visited Makoko he found that the local school was not only too small but  was also a victim of the regular floods. Inspired by community need and the unique challenges of an informal above-water settlement, Adeyemi and his firm NLE Architects devised the Makoko Floating School.

Floating school architect Kunlé Adeyemi, founder of the firm NLÉ.

Floating school architect Kunlé Adeyemi, founder of the firm NLÉ.

When researching how to construct and design the building NLE had to not only consider the immediate community that faced regular flooding events but also the poor quality of existing structures, the status of land titles (a large proportion of residents are renting or squatting), housing shortages, energy and waste management issues, the rapid rate of urbanization and the impact of future climate change. According to the architects their goal was to create a ‘building that’s self-sustainable and adaptable for other building typologies – homes, community centers, playgrounds – to gradually cultivate an improved quality of architecture, urbanism and living on water’.

It was decided that a floating building would prove the most adaptable to the rising and falling tides as well as the loose soil conditions of the Makoko area. Adeyemi used hundreds of empty plastic barrels stacked into an aluminium and hardwood frame to create the floating platform. The school is anchored to the lagoon floor with metal poles attached to its sides allowing for vertical movement as the water swells.

The building itself is a three-storied triangular structure. A flat, wide base provides stability on the water and the A-framed roof is ideal for water drainage and collection. The top two floors house the classrooms; the top floor being open-air and the second floor naturally ventilated by the louvered bamboo walls. The bottom floor is a playground with green space. The structure as a whole is constructed from locally available materials such as hardwood, bamboo and aluminium.

The floating school

The floating school

Environmental diagram of the floating school.

Environmental diagram of the floating school.

Despite living above a lagoon the residents of Makoko do not have ready access to fresh water. Most people buy jerry cans of fresh water from hawkers and many have to re-use polluted lagoon water for washing and bathing. Supplying the floating school with the estimated 150 litres of fresh water it needed every day proved to have a surprisingly easy solution. With year-round rainfall, rainwater harvesting from the sloping roof was remarkably efficient and five of the plastic floatation barrels are used for the required 3000 litres of water storage.

Access to electricity is also very limited. About 5% have electricity from the grid, 19% use generators while everyone else uses candles and lanterns. The floating school provides its own electricity with PV panels attached to the roof. NLE had also considered wind turbines but solar panels were found to be most appropriate as they are light enough, have no moving parts, require very little maintenance, work even in cloudy weather and are quick to install.

As a slum lacking modern infrastructure and built over water many buildings in Makoko do not have a toilet which means the lagoon is often used. NLE found that composting toilets were an effective and cost efficient solution for the floating school as they not only reduce the volume of waste but also reduce the contamination of the lagoon. Additionally, there is no need for fresh water to operate a compost toilet which is particularly important in an area like Makoko where fresh water is at a premium. In the school, the waste from the composting toilet is stored in one of the floatation barrels and will only need to be emptied once every second year. The resulting compost can be used to improve the soil quality of the green space.

The floating school is a flexible, multi-use space that can be used outside school hours by the rest of the community. It is intended to be the first phase of three with the next phase encompassing the construction of floating housing and the third phase being the eventual creation of an entire floating community. At this stage  the final phase is scheduled for completion by the end of 2014. It is hoped the floating community of Makoko will provide a prototype of a possible global solution for poor waterfront communities in a changing world.