Makoko Floating School: a model of Nigerian cutting edge design



 The Makoko Floating School has become a haven for both young and old. (Image: NLE/Iwan Baan)

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The Nigerian settlement of Makoko on the waterfront of Lagos is like a scene from the 1995 movie Waterworld. Nondescript structures of all shapes and sizes balance precariously on stilts sticking out of the oily waters of the lagoon and vendors ply their trade on dinghies along the crowded waterways.

And then of course there are the children who, with no playgrounds to scamper and play games on, hone their swimming talents by diving into murky waters. But some who have been lucky to enrol into the Makoko Floating School just off the shores of the lagoon are having a field day. The school, which opened at the beginning of Nigeria’s 2013/2014 school year, is no ordinary structure. It is the brainchild of Kunle Adeyemi, a Nigerian architect who was struck by the plight of the fishing community of Makoko, who decided to extend a helping hand in the form of a low-cost floating school.


Makoko is a sprawling settlement on the waterfront of Lagos, Nigeria, with an estimated population of 100 000 people. “Makoko is a community living on water. For nearly 100 years, it has thrived on fishing and sewing industries, providing over a third of Lagos’s fish supply and most of its timber,” says Adeyemi. “It is a highly dense and urbanised area, yet it has no roads, no land and no modern infrastructure.”

 The Makoko Floating School stands out as a beacon of hope in a community where poverty and hopelessness is rife. (Image: NLE/Iwan Baan)

Makoko Floating School

In July 2012, Nigerian government officials destroyed dozens of structures in Makoko, saying the settlement was becoming dangerous. A visit to the settlement was an eye opener for Adeyemi who came up with a bright idea to help ease the plight of Makoko residents. With the help of the Böll Foundation and the United Nations, he designed a low-cost A-frame floating school complete with classrooms, a play area and toilets.

Makoko Floating School design

The Makoko Floating School is a 10 metre high pyramid-shaped building resting on a 10m² base buoyed by 250 plastic barrels. The A-shape design is ideal for a floating object on water due to its relatively low centre of gravity, and provides stability and balance even during gale-force winds. The building has three levels: the first level is an open play area for school breaks and assembly, which also serves as a community space after school hours. The second level is an enclosed space for two to four classrooms, providing enough space for 60 to 100 pupils. A staircase on the side connects the open play area, the classrooms and a semi-enclosed workshop space on the third level.

 The Makoko Floating School makes use of local materials and resources to produce architecture that applies to the needs of people and reflects the culture of the community. (Image: NLE/Iwan Baan)

Construction of Makoko Floating School

Work on Makoko Floating School began in September 2012 with floatation mock-ups and testing. Empty plastic barrels which are in abundance in Lagos were used for the building base. The base consists of 16 wooden modules, each containing 16 empty plastic barrels. Once the base was assembled, construction of the A-frame begun and work finished in March 2013.

 The complete structure rests on a buoyant base made of empty plastic barrels. (Image: NLE/Iwan Baan)

International award

Since its completion in 2013, Makoko Floating School has been nominated and gone on to win several international awards for cutting-edge design. The school has been nominated in the London-based Design Museum’s Design of the Year 2014 award and received recognition in the 2013 World Technology Awards in Design.

 Kunle Adeyemi’s award-winning design of Makoko Floating School has inspired other architects to come up with similar designs. (Image: NLE/Iwan Baan)