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New Left Review 33, May-June 2005

Africa’s largest city not as chaotic laboratory of urban form, but end result of a specific historical trajectory. Beyond Koolhaas’s diagrammatic insights, the real context of spiralling debts, kleptocrat elite, infra-structural collapse and burgeoning informal sector as factors in Lagos’s expansion.



After decades of neglect, sub-Saharan Africa’s largest metropolis has suddenly found itself under intense critical scrutiny. The new attention comes not so much from development specialists or Africa scholars but from a high-profile convergence of architectural and cultural theory and critical urban studies, often focused around major international art exhibitions. Once known as the ‘Venice of West Africa’, Nigeria’s former capital—a smoky expanse of concrete and shanty-towns, sprawling for miles across the islands, waterways and onshore hinterland of the Lagos Lagoon—has become the subject of such mega-shows as Century City (2001) in London and Africas: the Artist and the City (2001) in Barcelona, and featured prominently in the 2002 Documenta 11 in Kassel. The Harvard School of Design’s Project on the City, led by the Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas, has announced its intention to produce a whole book devoted to Lagos. [1] Other recent exhibitions devoted to Lagos include Depth of Field held at the South London Gallery in 2005 and Lagos: STADTanSICHTen held at the ifa Galleries in Berlin and Stuttgart during 2004/5. My thanks to Bayo Anatola, Tunde Atere, Suma Athreye, Laurent Fourchard, Maren Harnack, Hellen James, Koku Konu, Michael Müller-Verweyen, Gbenga Odele, Muyiwe Odele, Ayodeji Olukoju and Ben Page.

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Matthew Gandy, ‘Learning from Lagos’, NLR 33: £3

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