"Several of you have questioned the relevance of discussing spontaneous design. You expressed doubt with the concept, particularly about my choice of New Makoko. Let me begin by saying everything is obvious in hindsight. You roll your eyes at the ingenuity of these concepts. You say, but of course barriers to entry lowered as technology advanced. Of course construction was revolutionized, just as in every other field of endeavour. The specifics might not have been clear, but that it would happen seems obvious. That might be so now, but wasn’t several decades ago.
The reason was that the wall between design and construction hadn’t come down yet – people saw them as distinct. Similarly, they thought that building and occupation occupied distinct areas in the fourth dimension. This was not surprising. After all, building materials weren’t as flexible as they are today and thus design couldn’t be. Besides, nobody wanted to live or work next to the cacophony of construction – so nobody really considered what would happen when it disappeared. The New Makoko was the first time a corner of that veil was lifted.
Yes, most experts claim that Bordello project in New York, or the cyber squatters in Spain were the first, but they are just suffering from old world prejudices. The first was the Container city. And yes, it suffering from terrible living conditions, poor sanitation and horrid safety standards, but if you just focus on that, you’re missing the point. Revolutions aren’t glamorous. This was the first horizontal skyscraper that had virtually no top down design. Every aspect of the building was created, added and modified by the inhabitants themselves – the craftsmen, traders, shippers, crackers, designers and programmers that occupied it. Previously people had moved into a building meant for one purpose and adapted it to another. This is not what happened in New Makoko. Here they built it from the ground up; creating a vibrant, exciting, unexpected and above all innovative community where before there had only been coastline.
That is important. New Makoko demonstrates human ingenuity and tenacity. This thing thrived and prospered even as Nigeria suffered under a kleptocracy and Lagos itself city was gridlocked and mismanaged. Some argue that this demonstrates the strength of the Nigerian spirit, that this building was built despite these adversities. Though I am not trying to disparage the Nigerian spirit, I say different. I believe that it was exactly because of these adverse conditions that the New Makoko came to be. It could never have been built in a more ‘civilized’ country. Regulators would have legislated it into non-existence, both for what it was and for what it represented – decreeing it ugly, dangerous and illegal. It was only because life in Lagos itself was the way it was – with its corruption and frontier mentality – that the Container City became viable.
What many people don’t realize is the impact New Makoko has had on modern technology. Without it there would be no vibrant 3D design exchange, the crowd crafting revolution would have been impossible, and consumers would still have been locked in the walled gardens of such technological dinosaurs as Apple and Google. It was only because of the lawlessness and flagrant copyright infringement of places like New Makoko that governments accepted patent laws had to change. Without those changes, self-assembling machinery would have been impossible, without them automated reassembly could never have existed. Could you imagine a world without such technologies? I certainly can’t!
What I’m trying to say is that the Container city was not just revolutionary in terms of design construction, or the materials used, it was also the beginning of a global revolution. Without it spontaneous design might still have happened, but many other technologies might have been strangled at birth by over-regulation, industry behemoths and lobbyists. For that reason I have decided to include it in this course. So far, any questions?"
" Let’s discuss why the Container City was the birthplace of all these new technologies. Before New Makoko industry had two big problems. First, it wasn’t naturally adaptive; factories were good at making what they were making, but the implementation of innovation required extensive retooling, making it expensive. Second, processes were incredibly wasteful, with the acquisition of a technology’s newest incarnation requiring that the previous version be discarded. The result was a mass-produced throwaway society, where the purpose of production was apparently – except for the momentary blip of individual ownership – to fill landfills.
The dual technologies of circular manufacture and 3D printing solved both these problems. Circular manufacturing created the possibility to reuse base materials – consisting of easily transformable molecules suspended in a nanobot reagent – with very limited waste, while 3D printing allowed for a departure from mass production into the realm of individualization and adaptation.
Though these technologies went through several incarnations, they eventually congealed in New Makoko into what we nowadays call ‘fast fab’ printing kiosks. Let me be clear, this was hardly the first attempt to install such technology, but due to general resistance previous attempts were stillborn. Unsurprisingly, really, since these technologies were incredibly disruptive. For example, they pushed trade online, with designs only turned into a physical product at the point of purchase, thereby undermining shipping; the profits of assembly line manufacture were squeezed, forcing the closing of plants and the laying off of workers; and the ability of individual designers to knock off products made by large conglomerates, and the difficulty of persecuting such loosely connected networks, reduced the profitability of patent-protected innovation.
The reason that "fast fab" kiosks were built in Nigeria was that the country was the state of its government. Money stopped all regulations and legislation, and 3D printing was profitable. Besides, the largest interest group in Nigeria was a ballooning middle class, with a great thirst for western gadgets at non-western prices. Catering to them meant allowing printing kiosks.
A law was adopted whereby any industrial building structure built over the Nigerian coastline & it’s economic zone was not subject to Nigerian patent and copyright laws. After that New Makoko grew almost organically into a coast hugging horizontal skyscraper. This law – which turned New Makoko into one of the only places where the 3D design could legally be stored – turned New Makoko into a storehouse of the world’s 3D designs, which were offered free of charge to the world at large. Though this might sound altruistic, it wasn’t. The designers of New Makoko benefited tremendously, as they used those very designs to manufacture the knock off products that the Nigerian populace so desired.
Of course, eventually through the application of international pressure, the laws surrounding Nigerian patents were reversed. By this time, however, the building had grown so large in status and size that the constant need to bribe police and suffer the occasional police raid had could not undermine it. In this case the decentralization of the building, something previously considered disadvantageous, became advantageous, as it could not be crippled by occupying some part of it.
Instead, the building became a victim of its own success. After spending two decades trying to dismantle New Makoko, the international community finally came to accept the container city and her implications. It became clear that open source design could be profitable, even for the designer, and patent laws were changed to be less restrictive. As the technologically fuelled social upheaval quieted down the world slowly inched towards a more New Makokoian model. New Makoko – which was still cramped, uncomfortable, dangerous and unsanitary – suddenly lost its reason for existence. The designers and crafters moved out of the cramped hotboxes and into a world that now accepted them. Their places within the Container City were taken by less savoury characters. From there it didn’t take long for the population to turn against it. The government moved quickly and – 24 years after it was built – the supporting structure blown up and she became a new habitat for fish. In other words, acceptance managed in a few years, what resistance hadn’t managed in two decades. A delicious irony, to be sure, though it did cost us one of the most unique building-architecture of the 21st century."