Improving an African City

Theories of Contemporary Architecture 1
Fall 2017, SCI-Arc
Instructors: Marcelyn Gow, Timothy Ivison

Based on Abdou Maliq Simone’s urban case study of “The Projet de Ville” in Pikine, Senegal – presented in For the City Yet to Come: Changing African Life in Four Cities.

    African cities are examined by various architects and urbanists in order to provide better conditions for their citizens under ongoing struggles. According to the author AbdouMaliq Simone, the city is the conjunction of endless possibilities for re-making. Simone’s alternative approach examines various case studies framed by “distinct notions: the informal, the invisible, the spectral, and movement. These framing notions are used here as tactical operational fields constituting an analytical site or locus through which different capacities, practices, and interpretations can be intersected. ”[1] The Projet de Ville uses the informal notion to be mapped with.

    Case study of Pikine started in 1998 in order to establish a specific framework for the governance and development of Dakar cosmopolitan suburb. The Projet de Ville in Pikine uses the methodology of mapping the area through different topics such as social collaboration, decentralization, disjointed geographies, informal activities, employment rates, education of youth, the political power of the religion. The sub-urban environment’s complexity is dissected into detailed topics to examine. Throughout the entire mapping process each topic faces multiple difficulties in information retrieval. The alternative approach to existing local problems lies in asking questions regarding potential transformations of the city. "How can a larger number of bodies sustain themselves by imposing themselves in critical junctures, whether these junctures are discrete spaces, life events, or sites of consumption or production?"[2] Different city areas operate within their territories but they are required to create unity within the whole city.

Lagos / Koolhaas, documentary, 2002

      The informal activities are an interaction driver between people. African society is built on informal relations within its communities. City inhabitants collaborate on an informal level in the streets, markets and households. People are more inclined to participate in the informal sector than in the formal employment possibilities offered by the state. Getting a formal employment position is a privilege based on family history and class status which is rather the exception.
Whereas participation in the informal sector is encouraged through easy entry, labor market flexibility, possibilities of survival. It is also cheaper to provide certain services informally. Due to the lack of governmental control, there are no set rules to maintain order in the cities.

    Examining disjointed geographies with near-complete absence of infrastructure requires a new system to be introduced to the non-functional city planning. Good connectivity within the separate bodies of the city provides security for inhabitants as well as access to education and work within reach. Well planned infrastructure improves the quality of life in urban conditions by reducing traffic between disjoint entities.

    Urban problems start with population growth and the resulting displacement. New strategies are required. "Reachability and an efficient transport infrastructure are important key factors."[3] African cities need a new smart model of access to meet the standards for a healthy operating environment. Citizens need to have access to secure spaces even within disjointed territories. In a highly dense, unregulated urban environment, this is highly difficult without confrontation.

    Countries within the European Union achieve top ranking of livability due to the high quality of life. There is an existing effort by various European architects to apply western planning methodology to African cities. Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas, together with the Harvard Project on the City program, mapped the Lagos urban environment. They have focused on the informalities as the organizing principles of Nigerian society. "Lagos is considered an icon of West African urbanity."[4] Explosive population growth over the last decade and the lack of governance caused uninhabitable conditions. The criminal rate in the city was extremely high, no security or infrastructure to navigate was provided. "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. "[5] The informal framing notion of The Projet de Ville can be compared to the case study of Lagos, Nigeria capital.

Lagos / Koolhaas, documentary, 2002


    The Pikine strategy is applied in a similar manner to Lagos and therefore can be applied to other African cities in the same situation. Society operates without any governmental regulations so it establishes its own set of rules informally. Simone's methodology of framing notions therefore provides an alternative solution for mapping the critical points of contemporary cities such as missing infrastructure, population growth, and informal activities.


[1] AbdouMaliq Simone, For the City Yet to Come: Changing African Life in Four Cities (Duke University Press Books, October 7, 2004), 13-14
[2] AbdouMaliq Simone, For the City Yet to Come: Changing African Life in Four Cities (Duke University Press Books, October 7, 2004), 3
[4]Rem Koolhaas , Lagos: How It Works (Lars Muller Publishers, Mar. 2007)
[5] , February 2016