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Makoko floating system: new architecture from Nigeria

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Makoko Floating System

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With the rising of unpredictable climate transitions, fascinating design strategies of have evolved to cope with such transitions. The innovative design tactics involve observing the stability and adaptation of coastal communities in different populations around the world. In the Lagos lagoon of Nigeria, Africa, the coastal city of Makoko, was being treated to a new solution which constructs houses that are supported in stilt water in the lagoon. NLÉ Architects have built a Makoko Floating School, with sponsors from the UN Development Program (UNDP) and Heinrich Boell Foundation from Germany.

The Idea

Makoko is a settlement built over water south of Lagos. It is home to about 80,000 people who are served by only one English-speaking primary school located on flood-prone area. The Floating School is a prototype structure whose primary goal is to provide residents along the under-served lagoon coastal areas of Africa with an alternative building design for its people. The aim was for Africa’s coastal regions to have an alternative building system that would provide space for education and cultural programs.

NLÉ’s Makoko Floating System is a simple way to build on water. It’s a prefabricated, customizable, floating A-frame, sustainable timber structure that can be produced locally for water developments in both advanced and developing countries. One of its main advantages is the ease of assembly and disassembly, which can be done quickly and manually.

NLÉ has been researching and developing expertise in nature-based solutions for water developments since 2011. The ‘African Water Cities’ project led to the development of the ‘Makoko Floating System’ – a unique, locally produced, easy-to-assemble, sustainable wooden floating construction solution that was implemented successfully in five countries across three continents. NLÉ believes that the infrastructure, architecture, and built spaces that support certain industries should express sustainable values, whether for housing, hospitality, healthcare, education, culture, agriculture, ecosystems, or water protection.

In 2012 the first model ‘Makoko Floating School’ was developed, a construction project was built to cope with serious challenges affecting many of the world’s major cities today including urban growth and climate change, for which the implications are expanding rapidly. The prototype was developed to translate how we urbanize water areas worldwide with an integrated, locally adaptable and customizable construction system. This is also because more than 80% of major cities in the world, – specifically on the Asian and African continents – are located by the water, many of which face rapid community growth.

The Makoko Floating School is situated in the lagoon heart of Nigeria’s greatest port, Lagos alongside Makoko’s Historic Water Culture. The goal was to introduce this scheme to many countries, cities and sites worldwide, through the creation of separate floating boats and multi-building hubs for the development of communities and to build entire new towns on water.


The Structure

The Makoko Floating School was built in the Lagos Lagoon in Nigeria and was designed by Nigerian architect Kunlé Adeyemi of NLÉ Architects. Constructed from locally sourced wood and bamboo and buoyed by recycled plastic barrels, the triangular A-frame or pyramid (10m high with a 10m x 10m base) is an ideal shape for tall floating objects on water. The structure is divided into three levels: an open play area and community space; an enclosed space with two classrooms for 60 students which are connected to the play area by stairs; and a semi-enclosed workshop space on the third level. It can be used for a variety of purposes, including housing, a health clinic, a market, an entertainment centre, or an infrastructure hub.

Makoko Floating School / NLÉ,Makoko Floating School © NLÉ architects

The Makoko Floating School and the entire proposed projects use local resources to create architecture that represents people’s needs and the community’s culture. Wood is used as the key material for the support and finishing of the school building. The complete configuration of the architecture is an A-Frame triangular section. They are partially enclosed with adjustable louvered slats. The classrooms are enclosed by the open field, below there is a playground, and an extra open-air classroom is situated on the top.

Makoko Floating System – MFS™ | NLÉ

Makoko Floating School / NLÉ,Makoko Floating School © NLÉ architects

Makoko Floating School / NLÉ,Makoko Floating School © NLÉ architects

The Floating Mechanism

NLÉ has also used techniques to ensure a safe floating design by applying photovoltaic cells on the roof and integrating a rainwater system. The structure is ventilated and aerated naturally. The finished structure depends on traditional plastic barrels. This basic approach illustrates the reuse of materials available for various applications. Excess rainwater from the input device may be stored in barrels at the periphery.

Nigeria's Makoko Floating School – Everything you need to know – Public  Delivery

Makoko Floating School / NLÉ,Makoko Floating School © NLÉ architects

Makoko Floating School / NLÉ,Makoko Floating School © NLÉ architectsMakoko Floating School © NLÉ architects

makoko floating system location

Makoko’s aerial view reveals how denser homes get as homes continue through the lagoon. The vision of NLÉ would introduce a new layer of homes that floats just beyond where the map indicates the floating school of Makoko.

The Makoko Floating System is a modular, scalable vessel that comes in three sizes: small, medium, and large. The three sizes range from one to three floors and can be combined in a variety of ways to create large floating spaces. The prototype’s versatile structure is a safe and cost-effective floating triangular frame. The frame can be tailored and completed to meet certain needs, criteria and capacities.

Recognition & Awards

For their work in educational projects, the Dutch-Nigerian firm NLÉ and its founder, Kunlé Adeyemi, were awarded the 2016 Venice Biennale Silver Lion. The Biennale jury praised the firm’s vision and work, which began in 2010, for providing “a powerful demonstration, whether in Lagos or Venice, that architecture, at once iconic and pragmatic, can amplify the importance of education.”

The Makoko Floating School received international acclaim for its tenacity and humanitarian spirit, and architects continue to regard the structure as a viable model for future innovations. Makoko residents, on the other hand, saw it as much more. The school and the subsequent national attention served as a true beacon of hope in what is still a volatile community at times.

The Man behind the Makoko Floating System

Nigerian architect, urbanist and creative researcher Kunlé Adeyemi is the founder and principal of NLÉ. The architecture, design and urbanism company NLÉ was founded in 2010 and is based in Amsterdam, Netherlands.  Adeyemi named the company from his heritage, for NLÉ means “at home” in Yoruba. The practice aims to provide innovative ideas for cities and communities and Adeyemi’s work is globally known for its originality and innovation.

The components that constitute a city are of concern to Adeyemi. In particular, it reflects on developed countries’ fast-growing cities. He studies and challenges the processes present in these cities and develops alternative solutions. Adeyemi believes that problems experienced and solutions used in the world’s fast-developing, powerful cities, including one of the most populous towns of Lagos in Nigeria, offers a lot to learn from.

The following are some of the projects that Adeyemi implemented with NLÉ;

  • Constructing prototype housing for urban tropic regions.
  • Queensday Lagos.
  • The Lagos Photo Project in collaboration with the African Artists’ Foundation
  • The Makoko Floating School, which evolved to the Makoko Floating System, part of the “African Water Cities” project.
  • The 2nd and 3rd versions of the Makoko Floating School project, MFS II and MFS III.

Alongside his technical work, Adeyemi is also an international lecturer and thinker and have won several awards. Adeyemi gave lectures and seminars and published numerous papers on architecture and urban planning at universities and conferences in Amsterdam, Zurich, Delft, and Guggenheim.

Artist’s impression:


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Makoko floating system: new architecture from Nigeria

by Editorial Team time to read: 5 min