There are no roads or much infrastructure of any kind in the floating world of Makoko, a shantytown flowing out from Lagos, Nigeria’s waterfront. Teetering atop small piers, the maze of tenuous wooden structures is frequently inundated by floods. Like many coastal cities, Lagos’ burgeoning population is faced with the increasing threat of more frequent flooding from rising sea levels.

The architecture firm NLÉ, with offices in Lagos and Amsterdam, began the Lagos Water Communities Project to introduce dynamic new floating buildings into the lagoon. NLÉ principle architect Kunle Adeyemi devised the scheme to address issues of inadequate housing and the worsening impacts of climate change. The pilot project, Makoko Floating School was completed in early March and combines sustainable strategies with the local tradition of building on water.

In July 2012, the Lagos State government served the entire community with a 72-hour eviction notice. Thousands were made homeless before the ensuing turmoil convinced the authorities to abandon the plan. The floating school project presented a model for positive change, and NLÉ eventually got government approval. With funding from the Heinrich Boell Foundation and the United Nations Development Program, the NLÉ team sought collaboration and expertise from the community to design and help build the school—which will house around 100 students ranging from ages 4 to 12.

The 3-story A-frame structure is buoyed by a matrix of plastic barrels. The enclosed classroom is on the second level, taking advantage of shade and ventilation from ocean breezes. There’s a rooftop classroom on the top level and a playground on the 1,000-square-foot platform with areas of vegetation. One of the most challenging issues in the floating district is clean drinking water. The A-frame shape allows for large areas of shade, and the roof collects rainwater for irrigation.

In Makoko, most of the waste (human and otherwise) goes directly in the lagoon. The school is outfitted with composting toilets that will set a precedent for cleaning up the foul waters beneath the district by turning waste into a resource. Since the electrical grid is spotty at best, an array of PV panels supplies power to the school.

‘Nle’ means “at home” in the West African language of Yoruba. But according to the firm’s philosophy, it connotes more than more than just shelter. “…It refers to the fundamental building blocks of the city, to everyday life and the uses of public space.” The school is the first of a three-phase development process to create a floating community.