The work of Kunlé Adeyemi tackles at least three complex issues: the rapid process of urbanization (which will be more dramatic in Africa than anywhere else in the coming years); the scarcity of means to create the right infrastructure to respond to this phenomenon; and climate change, which adds even more uncertainty to the problem of how cities are to be made in poor countries. Soon, most of the planet’s population will be urban. The challenge is how to balance two opposing forces: on the one hand millions of people looking for a place to stay, who, if unregulated, will inevitably tend to occupy every single piece of land available; on the other hand, the need to liberate land for circulation, public space, and urban services. The battle will therefore be played out between overcrowding and urban sprawl, expansion and compression.
The inventiveness of Kunlé Adeyemi consists in having created a new field that eschews the duality described above: the use of water as a new medium to deliver urban services. Makoko is a slum in Lagos, half in and half out of the water. Most of its houses are on stilts and people use canoes instead of buses, cars, or bicycles to get around. This is a place where, literally, there is no land available. In this context, Kunlé responded by devising a floating school. This approach not only created land where there was none; it is also an efficient way to invest resources in a highly dynamic, evolving environment. The population (demand) may shift, leaving the urban offer obsolete. A floating school is a smart way to deliver the service and it also means that it will be possible to react if the final form of the place changes when transitioning from informality to formality. But there is more. The floating school also responds to another difficult challenge: changes in the water level that could not be managed properly because of a lack of appropriate infrastructure and public investment. This uncertainty has worsened lately due to climate change.
What people are presented with at the Biennale is actually a real school (its finalized level is still to be defined) that, after stopping at the Arsenale for a couple of months and raising awareness on the issue, will continue its way to Africa to become a concrete contribution to this triple challenge.