Floating Architecture – Makoko Floating School

Over the last few weeks, FloodList has published a series of articles on floating architecture, looking at different ways designers and architects have approached the problem of providing homes and buildings in flood prone areas of the world. The series includes he the floating community of Waterbuurt in Amsterdam and Floating City Apps, based on the concept of a floating shipping container fitted out for multi-purpose use such as health facilities or schools.

The first pilot communication and education unit of the Floating City App initiative of Waterstudio in Holland is expected to reach Bangladesh in early 2017. In Africa, however, a floating school was built by Nigerian architect Kunlé Adayemi in 2013 and operated for almost three years.

Exploring the concept of floating communities as a solution for flooding in low income areas, the Makoko Floating School is a case study that cannot be overlooked.

Makoko

Makoko is one of the world’s largest waterside slums, much of it built on stilts above the waters of the Lagos Lagoon, on the eastern fringes of the city of Lagos in Nigeria.

With an estimated 2,000 people migrating to Lagos every day, many end up in informal settlements like Makoko which grew from a fishing village in the late 1800s, and the lack of available land caused people to start building over the water.

The total population of the settlement, made up of six villages, four of which are built over water, is unknown but reckoned to be somewhere between 40,000 and 300,000 residents. “Nobody knows, there’s no [credible] data available,” says Monika Umunna, of the Heinrich Böll Foundation, a non-governmental organisations at work in Makoko.

Unorthodox Design

After having seen the Makoko slum regularly during his trips around Lagos, Adayemi visited the settlement and spoke to the residents to try to determine what their main needs were. One of the main requirements was for more school space. The existing school is built on reclaimed land, but does not have room to expand and is also subject to periodic flooding. Adeyemi volunteered to design and help build a floating school for the community.

His unorthodox and iconic design was a total break from the largely single- and double-storey architecture of the existing informal settlement.

After speaking with local carpenters who had built many of the buildings in Makoko, Adeyemi designed a 3-storey A-frame multipurpose structure that could serve as a school as well as a venue for local community meetings and other activities. The base level, which is the largest space, could act as a play area, marketplace and meeting space at different times. Above this is the enclosed 220m² schoolroom seating 60 children, while a similar but slightly smaller space would be available above the schoolroom and under the shelter of the roof of the main structure, bringing the total available space up to a capacity of about 100 schoolchildren.

The whole structure floats on a matrix of 256 plastic 200-litre drums, oriented vertically and braced together in a timber and aluminium framework below the base level floor.

Some of the outer drums can be used to store rainwater, a solar panel is used to supply electricity, and there are composting toilets aboard. The A-frame form makes the 3-storey structure unlikely to capsize, and it is a design that is intended to be adapted for residential and other uses, so as to be able to eventually form a floating community.

Construction of the prototype was started in October 2012 in partnership with the Yaba Local Council Development Area (LCDA) and residents of the Makoko settlement, using locally sourced wood and bamboo, and completed in early 2013. It was partly funded by the Heinrich Böll Foundation and the UNDP.

The floating school quickly gained wide recognition in the architectural community and focused international attention on Makoko. The Lagos State government stepped back from its plans to demolish Makoko and instead adopted a redevelopment plan that was compiled by aid agencies working with the Makoko community.

Makoko Floating School design. Photo: Forgemind ArchiMedia / Flickr, under CC BY 2.0
Makoko Floating School floating base – a matrix of 256 plastic 200-litre drums. Photo: Forgemind ArchiMedia / Flickr, under CC BY 2.0
Makoko Floating School construction. Photo: Forgemind ArchiMedia / Flickr, under CC BY 2.0

Collapse

In June 2016, however, the project was dealt a blow when the prototype MFS collapsed during a heavy thunderstorm in Lagos. The school had, however, been decommissioned about 3 months earlier and fortunately was empty at the time, with no casualties reported.

After the collapse, there were accusations from locals that the school had only started operation in October 2015, and that parents had been concerned about the stability of the structure that “vibrated in the rain”. A further complaint was that the MFS could only accommodate about 60 learners, whereas there was a need for classroom space for at least 200. The local headmaster, Noah Shemede, expressed the opinion that, if it had been only a single storey building it might have been stronger, and complained that the community had been left with the responsibility to maintain the structure.

Adayemi, however, stated that the structure collapsed owing to wear, tear and damages during its last few months. “Being a first prototype, the structure was expected to have a limited lifespan with some maintenance. It was no longer in use, shored and discussions were incidentally in progress by the community to bring it down this week and salvage some of its reusable equipment and materials”, he said.

With regards to a replacement floating school, Adayemi added: “At the request of the community leaders and representatives, we are jointly considering the conditions for future operations and their establishment of a responsible management committee under which a new structure would be redeveloped.”

MFS II

In early 2016, Adeyemi had already designed an improved pre-fabricated, ‘industrialized’ version of the Makoko Floating School, as a template for rolling out the concept for other uses, including residential, and in other areas.

The MFS II as it was called, made its first appearance at the 15th International Architecture Exhibition – La Biennale di Venezia, in Venice, Italy, in May 2016, where its designer was awarded a Silver Lion Award for “a powerful demonstration, be it in Lagos or in Venice, that architecture, at once iconic and pragmatic, can amplify the importance of education”.

It took 4 builders 10 days to assemble MFS II in Venice, comprising of 13.5 tons of timber and approximately 1 ton of metal, all floating on 256 drums. According to the architect’s nleworks.com website, “MFS II is an improved iteration of the Makoko Floating School structure, adapted for easy prefabrication, rapid assembly and a wide range of uses. Just as the first prototype sourced local intelligence from the Makoko waterfront community, MFS II has been designed to suit local conditions and a wider waterfront population…It is mobile, deployable, and ready to be reassembled at the next Waterfront.”

The Future

Meanwhile, according to a report in the Guardian newspaper, the headmaster of Whanyinna primary school has found a suitable location near the existing school to build a new school large enough to accommodate all 200 students. Says Shemede, the principal: “I told Kunlé about it before…I’m going to build another school. One storey high.”

This should not be seen as the end of the floating school concept, however, as the need for such a facility goes much wider than the Lagos lagoon, and could be useful in quite a number of places around Africa and the globe. As with several other models for flood-proof floating facilities, 2017 will be an interesting year that hopefully sees the concept really go main-stream!

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