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‘Lagos shows how a city can recover from a deep, deep pit’: Rem Koolhaas talks to Kunlé Adeyemi

In 1997 two architects set out to rethink Lagos, an African megacity that had been largely abandoned by the state. Amid the apparent chaos and crime, they discovered remarkable patterns of organisation. Two decades later, Rem Koolhaas and Kunlé Adeyemi discuss the past, present and future of the city – and reveal why their own project never saw the light of day

1997 – RK: Nigeria was a blank on the map – there weren’t even any maps. The US State Department, everyone said don’t go there. It was courageous of Harvard University: the notion was that we would match Harvard students with Nigerian students, so that every student would have a guide, creating a guarantee of intimacy with the city. Kunlé was one of the students we recruited locally. But Lagos at that point was not very inviting even to Lagosians. It was considered a no-go zone, almost in its entirety.


RK: Because of that innuendo, in the end we didn’t publish. It was a book that was killed by the response of other people. Which sounds quite cowardly, perhaps, but it was the first manifestation of what is currently a really big issue: how political correctness defines the limits of what you can do. In that sense, it was super-exciting and maybe the most magical project we did, but at the same time fraught with mixed feelings.


RK: The real thing we tried to look at is what happens to a society when the state is absent. At that point, the state had really withdrawn from Lagos; the city was left to its own devices, both in terms of money and services. That, by definition, created an unbelievable proliferation of independent agency: each citizen needed to take, in any day, maybe 400 or 500 independent decisions on how to survive that extremely complex system. … it mobilised an incredibly beautiful, almost utopian landscape of independence and agency.

KA: Self-organisation …


However, the line had created a lot of communities, and therefore density – so every time the train was not driving, this whole area became a marketplace. At some point the train would drive, but at such a pace that you could sell things to the passengers as it went along – so the slowness was very functional in terms of creating opportunity of interaction and trade.

thinking – Maeklong Outdoor Market –

We also discovered a person who had a fish stall, and within a single square metre she carried two children all the way to Harvard. She supported an unbelievable escape of her children into education. In that sense it was a city completed pixillated, and every pixel contained amazing stories.


RK: It looks like total chaos, but after a while you learn to recognise that it’s not total chaos, because here are green things together, here are rusty things together, here are plastic things together. There’s a constant ordering going on, and a constant disordering at the same time.


then in order to discover whether this was the whole story, we rented a helicopter. And we began to understand that this is not chaos but a highly modern system that had been abandoned, then at some point went into reversal, then slowly came out of it.

look closer/further.. zoom dance ness.. in order to see

self-organizing ness




wikipedia small

Lagos /ˈlɡɒs/ (Yoruba: Èkó) is a city in the Nigerian state of Lagos. The conurbation is the largest city inNigeria and the African continent. Lagos is one of the fastest growing cities in the world and also one of the most populous urban agglomerations in the world. Lagos is a major financial centre in Africa; the mega city has the highest GDP, and also houses one of the largest and busiest ports on the continent.

…..Due to rapid urbanization, the city expanded to the west of the lagoon to include areas in the present day Lagos Mainland, Ajeromi-Ifelodun and Surulere. This led to the classification of Lagos into two main areas – the Island, which was the initial city of Lagos, before it expanded into the area known as theMainland. This city area was governed directly by the Federal Government through the Lagos City Council, until the creation of Lagos State in 1967, which led to the splitting of Lagos city into the present day sevenLocal Government Areas (LGAs), and an addition of other towns (which now make up 13 LGAs) from the thenWestern Region, to form the state.