This floating school in a lagoon could be part of the future of education

In Makoko, Nigeria — a floating slum in a lagoon just outside Lagos — a three-story school building with a bright blue roof peers over the mud-coloured village.

Makoko stands out from the rest of the structures not just because it rests on barrels and the others sit on stilts, but because of what it represents. In a village stricken with poverty, the school gives residents of all ages a chance at education while also serving as a model of how to build prospering communities on the water.

It’s one of the most innovative schools in the world.

Makoko began in 2012, with a design from architects at the British firm
NLÉ.

The company envisioned a prototype building with a peaked roof for sturdiness and dozens of floating barrels on its underbelly to protect the structure from sudden rising waters.

But that’s just in the short-term upside.

Over the next several decades, sub-Saharan Africa is poised to see the largest population boom of any region in the world, according to recent data from the United Nations.

Between now and the year 2050, Africa will come to make up more than half the world’s population. Today, its share of the pie is just 15%.

That means people will need smart, affordable places to live and work. NLÉ hopes its floating school can be Makoko’s answer.

“Its main aim is to generate a sustainable, ecological, alternative building system and urban water culture for the teeming population of Africa’s coastal regions,” the company explains.

It doesn’t want just one school, in other words. It wants a whole fleet of them.

Each building begins the same way, with a flotation platform.

On top of a grid of barrels made for buoyancy rests the first floor, an open-air green space meant to invite students and community members with plant life and passing breezes.

Then the builders move higher, with a shaded second-floor classroom and a well-ventilated third floor, to allow for the rising heat.

The final product is 1,000 square feet, featuring compost toilets, play areas, and room for up to 100 people.

It may be the most sophisticated structure in all of Makoko, which has virtually zero infrastructure, no roads, and no land. In 2013, the Nigerian government destroyed part of the community for that very reason, hoping to replace the stilt-supported homes with lucrative waterfront properties.

If the prototype takes hold, however, Makoko could be the compromise the neighbourhood needed all along: a middle ground that combines homegrown materials with world-class architecture.

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