Skip links

My final thoughts on Alternative Housing Methods for my City

In the past four posts, I have taken you on a journey on what I think the future of housing in a fast-developing, overly populated city like Lagos should be. I have raised some points surrounding flexible architecture. In the course of my research and writing, however, I came across some concerns as well as the need for further clarification. This is why I am writing this.

On Floating Architecture

Given the consequences, land reclamation (discussed in the previous article), it is advisable for the government to explore other means of housing people in the coastal areas as discussed previously. Floating architecture is not really a new concept in Nigeria, in fact, in 2012, the Makoko Floating School was designed and constructed by Kunle Adeyemi, but it collapsed in 2016 after a storm. Although this structure received a lot of accolades, there were also a couple of shortcomings from the project. According to a report by the architecture firm NLÉ where Adeyemi is the principal architect, the structure collapsed because of lack of maintenance and neglect. The building suffered damage from various storms and the damages were not repaired, this led to further deterioration till its final collapse in June 2016 (NLE WORKS, 2016). 

The floating school had a lot of potential both for the community and for many other floating neighbourhoods around the world but it eventually failed for many reasons. The first challenge was the improper consideration and analysis of the site situations, Lagos is located in the tropical region and as such is prone to heavy tropical storms. But the irony of the design was that it was the very elements of weather that led to its eventual collapse. The second major shortcoming was the cost of construction and maintenance of this project, although the funds were initially sourced from United Nations Development Program and the Heinrich Böll Foundation and the project was said to cost about $130,000 there was no provision for maintenance (Gaestel, 2018). The designer expected the community to handle maintenance issues for the project. It is expedient at this point to mention that Makoko is one of the poorest slums in the world but its inhabitants were expected to maintain a $130,000 project (Elder, 2017). This was the greatest shortcoming of the project. (This also led to a debate on whether architecture can really ever be altruistic or just serves as an ego boost for the designer… but a story for another day.)

Asides from the affordability conundrum, there is also the challenge of the existing government and planning policy in Lagos that does not accommodate floating houses. With all these in mind, it is important to look for ways to readapt these floating houses to Nigeria. It is obvious that it is achievable but will require proper research and analysis in order to ensure the safety of the potential occupants, it will also need to be as subsidised as possible so that it is affordable for the slum dwellers (Gaestel, 2018). 

According to current market rates, a floating home costs about $870/square meter to construct which is about N310,590/square meter (in the Nigerian currency $1=N357) (Ha, 2017). This is a high figure almost twice the cost of building on land (N150,000-N170,000/square meter) stated earlier and so is obviously beyond the financial reach of these people as they cannot even afford conventional dwellings which are cheaper.

From this analysis, it is obvious that although floating houses would help to reduce slums (the floating ones), it cannot be implemented without considering the concomitant challenge of the high cost. For this to be adopted in Lagos State, it would be necessary for further research into more affordable methods of its realization and possible intervention and participation of humanitarian bodies such as the UN. 

Can you live or work in a container?

Asides from floating houses, container houses are also gaining popularity as a form of adaptable architecture. It involves the adaptive reuse of old shipping containers previously used for cargo. This is an innovation that is in line with the green building agenda and is gaining popularity in the built environment today. Old shipping containers are now being converted to residences and offices; either as single dwellings or big complexes. (Belogolousky, 2018) 

Lagos is also not a stranger to this as shipping containers are beginning to be adapted for use as office suites and site offices although there is still a huge gap to be filled before its widespread use for residential purposes. According to Dele Ladipo of TempoHousing, container houses are about 25-30% cheaper than using traditional construction methods which makes them more affordable. In addition to this, they require a very short time for construction- about 6-9 days as opposed to 6-9 months required for construction using conventional (block and mortar methods). This means that the housing deficit reduced within a shorter time interval.  (Reuters, 2015).

PUMA City Shipping Container Retail/Events Building by LOT-EK

Despite the pros of this housing methods, a few disadvantages have been brought to light with a focus on the health and safety of the occupants. Lagos is located near the equator with an annual temperature high of about 29˚C. This means that the container would need to be kept cool for the comfort of the occupants. To tackle this, insulation panels would be used to help keep the internal conditions cool other passive cooling means such as cross ventilation and shading devices could also be implemented. Asides from this, there is the challenge of manpower as this is not a common housing method and so it may be a bit difficult to find trained workers able to refurbish shipping containers for habitation (Ismail et al., 2015).

Talking to the Practitioners

Although these solutions seem to be very viable, they are however not without some disadvantages and barriers to their deployment in Lagos state. In the pursuit of a proper understanding of how well-suited Lagos is for the solutions, interviews were conducted with some professionals who are based in Lagos. These professionals were picked from a pool of practising Architects, Urban and town planners, as well as Quantity Surveyors. 

Their responses affirmed the belief that flexible architecture could indeed serve as an antidote to the housing problems but at the same time identified some barriers to its execution including the cost of implementation this is because, from cost estimates, it has been seen that prefabricated or modular houses would require millions of naira (the Nigerian Currency) in capital to establish factories as well ensure that they are running properly. Asides from the problem of cost, there is also the problem of reception to change. It may be difficult for the flexible architecture to be accepted by the citizen as it is different from what is widely known, although this is a barrier that can definitely be overcome with time. 

Asides from accepting change, current government policies also pose a challenge, from the study of the Makoko floating school, it was seen that the project did not gain proper approval by the government as it was not an accepted method of housing people. 

Yes, you can finally get rid of me!

To conclude, flexible housing has demonstrated that if it has been successfully deployed in Amsterdam, Chile, Vietnam and other parts of the world, it could potentially solve the housing problems in Lagos. Although for their successful implementation, however, here are a few recommendations.

First of all, government policies on housing and housing provision need to be reviewed to accommodate other types and means of housing the inhabitants of the state. Secondly, investment in research and design would be needed so that alternative housing methods would be properly explored, developed, and adapted for a successful implementation in the state. This is because although the general principles may be the same, there are a couple of differences in the conditions such as the climatic conditions as well as the available materials and the existing building methods. In Lagos, for example in the floating houses, a few changes would need to be made because the weather conditions in Lagos differs greatly from that in Amsterdam (Lagos is known for the tropical climate conditions while Amsterdam is situated in the temperate region). In addition to this, the involvement of the United Nations and other humanitarian bodies may be necessary to provide the required funding and assistance required. Asides from this, proper training of professionals would also be needed to educate them on alternative methods of construction. 

 Thank you so much for joining me on this journey. I hope you’ve learnt as much as I have. As always, I look forward to hearing your thoughts down in the comment section. I would also like to hear other topics that you would want me to discuss on my blog.


Leave a comment