Infrastructure Imaginaries in West Africa: Informal Urbanism, Creativity, and Ecology in Lagos, Nigeria

Global Urban Humanities Interdisicplinary Research Graduate Studio


Olalekan Jeyifous, Shanty Megastructures, 2015













4 units
Time + Location TBA

Instructors: Charisma Acey (City and Regional Planning)
Ivy Mills (Art History)

Informality is overwhelmingly figured as the enemy of state-driven development in African cities. Unruly agents like market women, itinerant vendors, power grid hackers, and motorcycle taximen continue to resist capture by formal structures of taxation and regulatory control, and are accused of undermining top-down projects of urban beautification, modernization, and sanitation through their cleaving to what appears to be an ethos of disorder and incivility.

Using Lagos, Nigeria as a site of investigation, this graduate studio course will investigate multiple lines of inquiry generated by the concept of informality (and how it manifests in the realm of urban infrastructure). We will question common sense understandings of urban informality in Africa, proposing instead that informality can have its own distinctive infrastructures that are rendered invisible by dominant developmentalist lenses. What are the forms - and even formalities – of what is commonly classified as informality? If these forms are not readily visible, how might we devise methods with which to see them, and learn from them? How might they inform creative solutions to major challenges facing the populations of rapidly expanding African cities? We will look for infrastructure not only in roads and water pipes, but in people, social relations, and popular urban aesthetics. For collaborators, we will look to artists, scholars, resource activists, and community members to help us imagine a future for African cities that does not impose an outside, bourgeois vision of how a well-planned, “green” city should look – a vision that, when implemented, often results in the displacement and further marginalization of poor residents (as is the case with Lagos’ Eko Atlantic project). How might the future city look if the beautiful, green city is imagined from below, rather than from above?

Students will conduct intensive fieldwork in Lagos, Nigeria during spring break.

We will examine infrastructures classified as formal and informal in key urban neighborhoods and investigate the Eko Atlantic City project, considering how informality as a state practice is imbricated in processes of exclusion and segregation. We will engage with Lagos’ arts communities and spaces, focusing on alternative imaginings of informality. Throughout the studio, students will explore cross-disciplinary methods in historical method and urban research, qualitative fieldwork, and developing tools for visualization, spatial analysis, and presentation.

Fulfills the studio requirement for the Graduate Certificate in Global Urban Humanities

Priority enrollment to students pursuing the certificate. Details on the Graduate certificate are here.

Application required. Applications will be made available in Fall 2018.

Questions about the course may be directed to