Makoko Float­ing School rises above the slums of im­pov­er­ished Nige­ria


Liv­ing in the slum does not au­to­mat­i­cally en­ti­tle its res­i­dents the op­por­tu­ni­ties to get a for­mal ed­u­ca­tion, but with the birth of a float­ing school, the chances of be­ing for­mally ed­u­cated are lim­it­less.

The Makoko Float­ing School has been de­scribed by the Lon­don De­sign Mu­seum as a “pro­to­type float­ing struc­ture, built for the his­toric wa­ter com­mu­nity of Makoko.”

Makoko, is a slum neigh­bor­hood lo­cated in the MakokoIwaya com­mu­nity of La­gos, Nige­ria’s largest city, and has a pop­u­la­tion of over 100,000 res­i­dents. Fish­er­men from the Egun speak­ing pop­u­lace set­tled in the slum over 100 years ago.

Es­tab­lished in the 18th cen­tury pri­mar­ily as a fish­ing vil­lage the area was not of­fi­cially counted as part of the 2007 cen­sus and the pop­u­la­tion to­day is es­ti­mated to be much higher.

It is a com­mu­nity that houses thou­sands of Ijaws, Ilaje’s and Egun speak­ing pop­u­lace who are pre­dom­i­nately fish farm­ers and who also en­gage in trad­ing ac­tiv­i­ties. They lack ba­sic ameni­ties, lack clean wa­ter, lack power sup­ply, and are alien to any­thing called de­vel­op­ment.

Although, Makoko has make shift schools in­clud­ing French schools built by in­di­vid­u­als and for­eign na­tion­als to cater for the ed­u­ca­tional needs of the chil­dren in the com­mu­nity, they are yet largely in­suf­fi­cient to cater for the in­creas­ing num­ber of chil­dren in the area.

The near ex­is­tence of for­mal ed­u­ca­tional in­sti­tu­tions in the area has been at­trib­uted as one of the causes of teenage preg­nancy and other forms of vices ram­pant in the area.

In 2012 how­ever, Nige­rian ar­chi­tect, Kunle Adeyemi, with sup­port from Hein­rich Boll Foun­da­tion and the United Na­tions cre­ated a three- storey wooden float­ing struc­ture to ac­com­mo­date 100 ele­men­tary school chil­dren per time, who will find their way to the school by boats.

Light­ing, Play­ground

Speak­ing on the stim­u­lus for its cre­ation, Adeyemi told a media or­ga­ni­za­tion that “The de­sire to con­struct the school was born out of cu­rios­ity af­ter I vis­ited the com­mu­nity. And my in­ter­est in the coastal com­mu­nity, where de­spite the lit­tle in­come made daily by the bread­win­ners, they have never stopped de­vel­op­ing the in­fra­struc­tures in the com­mu­nity.”

Each of the floors in the school has a mod­ern toi­let and elec­tric­ity sup­ply wires (pow­ered by a so­lar sys­tem) built into the school to pro­vide light­ing for the chil­dren who may want to in­volve in evening ed­u­ca­tional ac­tiv­i­ties. The ground floor has an open space which serves as a play­ground for chil­dren, and some­times, re­lax­ation spot for Makoko res­i­dents on week­ends.

As a pi­lot pro­ject cre­ated in 2012, the float­ing school 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. It is aimed at gen­er­at­ing a sus­tain­able, eco­log­i­cal, al­ter­na­tive build­ing sys­tem and ur­ban wa­ter cul­ture for the teem­ing pop­u­la­tion of Africa’s coastal re­gions.

Built to float and mea­sur­ing about a hun­dred square me­tres (100-square-me­tres), the school is a tri­an­gu­lar form in sec­tions con­structed with a par­al­lel se­ries of tim­ber A-frames on a plat­form sup­ported by 256 re­cy­cled blue plas­tic bar­rels.

Emerg­ing Ar­chi­tec­ture

This world class pro­ject with beau­ti­ful ar­chi­tec­tural makeup is how­ever, fast be­com­ing a shadow of it­self. Since 2012, the struc­ture has not been used and the chairs, ta­bles, roofs and bulb to lighten the classes are un­avail­able. A visit to the place showed that the fish­er­men have made the struc­ture a rest­ing place dur­ing their fish­ing ex­pe­di­tion.

The sam­ple float­ing struc­ture which has got­ten in­ter­na­tional press at­ten­tion, won awards in­clud­ing the 2013 AR+D awards for emerg­ing ar­chi­tec­ture, was short­listed for the Lon­don De­sign Mu­seum’s 2014 De­sign of the Year Award and has been nom­i­nated for the 2015 In­ter­na­tional Award for Public Art has been re­jected in Nige­ria.

Two fac­tors have yet con­tin­ued to im­pede on the max­i­miza­tion of the school.

On the one hand, La­gos state gov­ern­ment is un­will­ing to ap­prove the struc­ture as a school. This is be­cause it has tagged the slum as an illegal set­tle­ment. Thus it is al­most im­pos­si­ble for the gov­ern­ment to give it the sup­port it needs to func­tion prop­erly.

Speak­ing for the La­gos state gov­ern­ment in 2013, Com­mis­sioner for Wa­ter­front and In­fra­struc­ture De­vel­op­ment, Prince Ade­se­gun Oniru said the struc­ture is an illegal struc­ture, and added that “it shouldn’t be there, and we are try­ing to get rid of struc­tures there.”

On the other hand, the com­mu­nity is yet to as­sume full cus­tody of the struc­ture. Adeyemi has ad­vised the com­mu­nity lead­ers

to take full con­trol of the struc­ture, get and mo­bi­lize the chil­dren to come and learn, and teach­ers to rise up to teach.

A source told The Na­tion that the com­mu­nity is ready to kick start the teach­ing and learn­ing of for­mal ed­u­ca­tion, but are hope­ful that some good and noble per­sons can take it up from where Adeyemi ended it.

Mean­while, com­mu­nity vig­i­lantes are in charge of the se­cu­rity of the float­ing struc­ture.


The Makoko Float­ing School is seen in this un­dated photo.

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