Kunlé Adeyemi challenges the perception that to modernize is directly translated to the western trajectory of design and development. With the intention of addressing issues related to rapid urbanization and climate change within the African context, Kunlé Adeyemi and his architecture company NLÉ are constantly developing a number of urban, research and architectural projects in Africa. One of Adeyemi’s well-known designs is ‘Makoko Floating School’, an innovative, prototype, floating structure located on the lagoon heart of Lagos. This came from the looking at the impact of climate change – rising sea levels, frequent flooding, etc. – leaving cities located near the sea most at risk. A conclusion was drawn stating that the relationship between water and the city on the African continent has become a “critical intersection for understanding the future of development in Africa” (The Royal Institute of Art 2015).
The 2017 solo exhibition of artist Tabita Rezaire at Goodman Gallery Johannesburg titled Exotic Trade, when discussed in relation to the conversation around water and the city adds an extra layer for consideration. Her work brought water into the realm of technology, by framing it as a database from which information is stored, shared and downloaded. In other works she also refers to water as a source of healing. She also connects water to colonial trade roots, making this a loaded exhibition.
‘Makoko Floating School’ falls into a larger project titled the African Water Cities project – an urban, sociocultural, political and economy catalyst for adapting coastal African cities to the impact of climate change within the context of rapid urbanization.
When connecting Rezaire and Adeyemi, there is a historical, (post)colonial thread that is pulled across artistic, architectural and academic viewpoints. An aspect of this becomes about re-establishing a relationship with resources and conceptual frameworks within which these resources are interpreted. Another aspect becomes about the importance of creating architectural and design projects that speak directly to the context within which they will be placed, which involves an understanding of past and present mythologies, traumas and imaginaries that revolve around water. This can be seen through Adeyemi’s attempt to respond to environmental and social crises through design that takes into account how African coastal cities are inhabited. Perhaps the future could be cities that float; float on water and on an understanding of water as a technology, a source of healing and container of history.