How Do You Protect a Neighborhood Against Flooding? Float It, of Course

A Nigerian project hopes to turn a flood-prone settlement into a sustainably designed community.

A rendering of Makoko's new floating future. (Photo: NLÉ)
A Bay Area native, Andri Antoniades has previously worked as a fashion industry journalist and a medical writer.

Ask an American where Makoko is and you’re most likely to get a blank stare. But the slum dwelling, located in Lagos, Nigeria, is currently facing a very American problem. The water settlement, which includes lean-tos and shacks held above rising tides by means of rickety stilts, is home to over a quarter of a million of the capital city’s urban poor. And according to the BBC, the Nigerian government would like them to move out.

Depending on which reports you believe, officials are either concerned for the residents’ safety or have hopes to use that land themselves in order to erect upscale waterfront properties. 

Either way, Nigerian architect Kunle Adeyemi, of the NLÉ design firm, has plans of his own. He started building in Makoko himself, but his designs are about making the community safer, cleaner and more secure for its inhabitants.

According to Co.Exist, the first of Adeyemi’s projects is a floating school. Currently in its building phase, the school is a modular, three-story floating structure that when finished, should provide educational services for about 100 students. Capable of harvesting rainwater, the school is built from locally sourced wood and recycled materials, and maintains its own sustainable energy from solar panels located on its roof. Local students will arrive and leave by the area’s favored method of transportation—the canoe.

With water levels rising due to climate change, other communities in countries like Bangladesh and Cambodia find it safer to turn schools into floating structures. According to the UN’s news outlet, by taking education off of dry land, children can continue their lessons without the disruptions they would have faced if their land-based school was overcome by floods.

But Adeyemi’s goal is bigger than a floating school. He has plans to apply the same principles to radically alter the residents’ private homes. Depending on funding, his plan would involve rebuilding the structures that are tenuously perched on stilts and turning them into ones that float, essentially creating a neighborhood of ecologically designed houseboats, which are infinitely safer in this flood-prone area. Just like the school, each home would have solar panels to provide energy and compostable toilets for efficient waste management.

Adeyemi told Co.Exist he hopes to bring these designs to other coastal communities in Africa that are struggling with dual issues of rising water levels and a lack of adequate urban housing. While the rest of the world wrings its hands over how to reverse increasing global temperatures, it’s the world’s impoverished who have to face the most immediate consequences of it. Projects like Adeyemi’s offer them at least a chance to stay protected.

Would you prefer a floating school to a traditionally land-locked one? Let us know in the Comments.

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