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High-Tech Floating Houses Planned For Nigeria Water Communities

A visionary plan for a floating city in Nigeria proposed by architecture and urban design firm NLÉ.

Lagos, Nigeria is one of the world’s ever-expanding “megacities”—urban centers with populations of more than 10 million. Places like this are increasingly demanding the attention of forward-thinking architects and urban planners who can help address the demands arising from this rapid expansion, aided by new technologies that can meet the growing challenges caused by destructive forces of nature and mounting population concerns.


For Nigerians living in the Lagos slum of Makoko, the port city’s Portuguese name "Lagos" (“Lakes” in English) pretty much sums up the foundation of their neighborhood, economy, and day-to-day lives. If its 200,000+ inhabitants aren’t navigating the avenues in canoes, they’re tossing buckets of water accumulated from the near-monsoon level rainfall deposits from their houses during spring time.

But while Makoko is primarily known as a densely populated and impoverished district, much of Lagos’ economy, which is growing at such a rate it has surpassed the entire national economy of Kenya, is rooted in the fishing and trading markets historically conducted in its waters.

An aerial shot of the Makoko water community. By Iwan Baan

Even more interesting is that Makoko has been somewhat of an autonomous community over the past 120 years. Government presence has been nearly non-existent in the region, and certain aspects of its economy are relatively independent from on-land activity. Reason enough, then, for Nigerian-born architect Kunlé Adeyemi and his architecture, urban design and planning firm NLÉ to begin working towards solutions for the neighborhood's survival, especially as rising sea levels and Lagos' desire to eradicate slum housing threaten its existence.

As a part of NLÉ´s Lagos Water Communities Project, Adeyemi and company are in the design phase of transitioning Makoko’s common quarters from dilapidated houses on stilts to floating a-frame family units, with a “floating community” being the end goal of the initiative. Prototype images of Adeyemi’s vision depict a surreal, near-fantasy-fiction setting.


Artistic rendering of floating community design

The floating a-frames will incorporate systems similar to earthquake proofing technology created by Japan-based Air Danshin System. Sensors built into the houses will detect significant environmental changes, causing a compressor to pump air into a series of cushions beneath the unit’s foundation. The added height and plasticity of the cushions will theoretically absorb the shocks and alterations spurred by flooding or rises in sea level.

Video demonstrating the earthquake proofing technology for land-based structures

The above video demonstrates the technology’s efficiency on land. Once tremors are detected, it takes a single second for the cushions to fill with air and elevate the structure 1.2 inches off the ground. After movement subsides, the bags slowly deflate and the structure returns to ground position. In line with NLE’s desire to provide intuitive housing that’s both sustainable and affordable, the technology is a perfect fit for the project: relatively cheap compared to most other earthquake proofing systems, requires very little long-term maintenance, and guaranteed by a 10-year warranty.

Floating houses will be able to link together, forming shared community spaces 

It’s currently unknown when communities like Makoko will see the beginning stages of public housing incorporating Adeyeme’s vision. However, NLÉ has already actualized a similar design via the Makoko Floating School, which was inaugurated this March. The school can host lessons for up to 100 school children at a time, and is used as a community center when not occupied by students.


Students and community members of Makoko test out the recently-inaugurated floating school. By Iwan Baan

Aerial shot of the floating school on the outskirts of Makoko. By Iwan Baan

The need for a solution is pressing if Makoko is to survive. Attempts to clear the area with force—chainsaws to houses on stilts, inconsiderately short-notice demands by the government for residents to relocate their livelihoods—have given clear indication that Nigeria isn’t hesitating to make Makoko a memory. And with some projections suggesting Lagos will reach a population of 40 million within the next 20 years, the necessity for habitable and environmentally adaptable spaces is an immediate concern for all the city’s inhabitants. Adeyemi and NLE’s efforts are pure examples of how innovative thinking and novel applications of technology can respond to inevitable complications in realistic, sustainable ways.