Kunle Adeyemi “water-holic”

Kunlé Adeyemi is an architect, founder & principal of NLÉ – an architecture, design and urbanism practice founded in 2010, for innovating cities and communities.

NLÉ means ‘‘at home’’ in Yoruba, the language of Africa’’s first truly urbanized population, NLÉ’’s philosophy, the ‘home’ is more than walls, floors & ceilings.

Due to rapid urbanization and the forces of globalization, the people in such cities have redefined understanding of cities through their innovative and economical appropriation of spaces, materials and infrastructure. The environment – streets, bridges, side walks, raw materials and junk – are acquired, cultivated and reconstituted to achieve maximum necessities through minimum means. This creates unique organizations and advanced social structures in which people live, work, trade and play in ways that are now rarely seen in the ‘‘developed worlds’’, which are now ironically the ‘less developing world’.

According to U.N. estimates, the population of Africa will double by 2050, growing at a rate that will quickly surpass the population of China and rival Asia as the world’s most populous continent by 2100. With this explosive growth, African communities and cities are expanding rapidly and aggressively into unchartered territories. Africa’s population surge coupled with the impacts of climate change – sea level rise, heavy rainfall, and flooding – frames one of the most significant and urgent contemporary global challenges.
In 2011, NLÉ initiated the African Water Cities Project (AWC)1: project that explores the impacts of urbanization, housing shortages, lack of resources and climate change on African cities and communities situated in or along water. NLÉ conducted initial macro scale investigations of economic and population growth, revealing that the fastest growing African cities are also the most vulnerable to climate change. These cities are home to the largest groups of poor informal settlements, in which several have begun to show evidence of adaptation to climate change.

A ranking of the ‘Top 20 Potential African Water Cities’ was produced and the body and interest of the research has continued to grow, adding cities such as Cairo, Lagos, Luanda, Abidjan, Cape Town and Dar es Salaam. Simultaneously, smaller water communities such as Nzulenzu, Ghana, Ganvie, Benin.

The collected regional intelligence will serve as a foundation, from which the studio will focus on a selected local context. The studio will investigate a specific city (Dar es Salaam, Tanzania) and its edge conditions in order to understand its transformation and potential adaptation as a ‘Water City.’ The overarching aim is to identify and bridge critical gaps in infrastructure that inhibit healthy development. Questions to guide this exploration:

– Why are African cities developing so rapidly and what are the implications?
– Which of the cities are developing fastest and what are the varying attributes?
– How are cities developing and what/who are the urban constituents?
– What are the contributing resources and where are they from?
– What are the other economic indices that we can use to predict development
potentials? Employment, natural resources, FDIs, infrastructure, etc?
– What are the challenges, opportunities, risks?
– What institutions are involved and what are the networks in place?
– What are the challenges of “bottom up” vs. “top down” planning processes?

Adeyemi’s notable works include :

Makoko Floating School’, a groundbreaking, prototype floating structure once located in the lagoon heart of Lagos, Nigeria. This acclaimed project is part of NLÉ’s extensive body of work, ‘African Water Cities’, at intersections of rapid urbanization and climate changes.

Makoko Floating School is a prototype floating structure, built for the historic water community of Makoko, located on the lagoon heart of Nigeria’s largest city, Lagos. As a pilot project, it has taken an innovative approach to address the community’s social and physical needs in view of the impact of climate change and a rapidly urbanizing African context. Its main aim is to generate sustainable, ecological, alternative building systems and urban water cultures for the teeming population of Africa’s coastal regions.


Chicoco Radio is a floating media platform being built with and for the residents of Port Harcourt’s waterfront community in Nigeria.

480,000 people live in waterfront settlements along the creeks that fringe the city. The state government plans to demolish the settlements. Chicoco Radio is the community’s voice and platform.

The structure is conceived as a linear composition of public spaces from land to water: a community radio station, recording studios, computer centre, meeting rooms, amphitheater and cinema. The radio broadcast mast is an integrated architectural component raising the structure like a bridge: launching one end of the building into the water, suspending the other in the air. The waterside of the building is a floating stage and jetty responding to the ebb and flow of the tide. The airside is the broadcast space where programmes and music are made to air. The cantilevered studios open a shaded landscaped area beneath them – open public space beneath a place of open public debate.

Built of locally available materials, the structure incorporates renewable energy systems. The concept and design development stages have been closely guided by the local communities: we have involved hundreds of residents in design workshops, focus groups and discussions over a number of years. Through this deeply responsive and collaborative design process, local residents have provided valuable insights to this solution, which carefully addresses their challenges and strongly reflects their collective aspirations. Chicoco Radio will be built, owned, operated and maintained by the waterfront communities.

As a ‘bridge to transformation’, the amphibious nature of the building offers a reconnection between the communities’ life on land today, their historic past and their potential lives on water in the future. Anchored in the bay of Okrika waterfront and reaching up towards the ‘upland’ city, the building establishes a trajectory along which large areas of intense informal growth will be integrated into a more inclusive vision of the city’s future.


Mario Garcia/.

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