Lagos: Infrastructure and improvisation

A fascinating discussion from 2002, between Rem Koolhaas and Bregtje van der Haak on modern Lagos and Koolhaas’s research and impressions with the Harvard Project on the City on Lagos in Nigeria.

Bregtje van der Haak: Why Lagos?

Rem Koolhaas: The longer I work on it, the less I know why. We started the Harvard Project on the City to identify which cities were changing most quickly and to understand how they were changing. I made an inventory of cities that would be very important in the future. China’s Pearl River Delta was one, because its population would leap from 12 million to 36 million in 20 years. And Lagos was another. Also, by the end of the 90s, the endless idolatry of the market economy had become irritating to me. I was interested in the big city as a poor city – a city that was almost disconnected from the global system. This forced me to confront something I didn’t know anything about: Africa.

Van der Haak: What was your image of Africa at that time?

Koolhaas: It was the image of a continent in perpetual crisis – with health gloom, economic gloom, food gloom, political gloom. So I was completely unprepared for the immediacy of the intelligence I encountered there.

Van der Haak: Was there something specific about Lagos and Nigeria that you wanted to explore?

Koolhaas:At that point, of all the big cities in the world, Lagos was the least known (1, 2). The fact that there could still be an unknown situation at the beginning of the 21st century – within globalization – was challenging but risky; there was no established interpretation.

Lagos is a mystery that is intensifying: because of its oil, it is a very rich place, but everybody is very poor. Since the 1960s, the average income has decreased systematically. I don’t think you can be in Lagos without becoming aware of its potency; when Lagos gets itself organized it will be extremely powerful; and already – without organization – it is very powerful.

Van de Haak:
Is oil an important part of your theories on Lagos?

Read the full article at OMA

This interview appears in the documentary ‘Lagos Wide & Close‘, directed by Bregtje van der Haak.