What if your community was so progressive that it posed a threat to the government? What if you had to choose between your love and inspiring others?

In the spring of 2016, Alex McDowell RDI’s World Building as Design Practice course at USC imagined a possible future for Makoko, a floating fishing village built out of salvaged materials in the lagoon beside Lagos, Nigeria. Our worldbuild imagined that by 2035, drinkable water in Lagos has been privatized – but, in the early 2000s, the real-world floating school created by architect Kunlé Adeyemi for the children of Makoko inspired the community to adopt a widespread “maker” philosophy. The citizens of Makoko applied their skills at salvaging and repurposing to not just housing, but to developing new technologies and sustainable hyperlocal agriculture. In our worldbuild, this led Makoko to grow from a slum constantly in danger of being eradicated by the Lagosian goverment into a thriving, brazenly independent neighborhood the rest of Lagos looks to as an inspiration. Tensions between Makoko and the government still run high and the government has both instituted guard patrols to keep the Makokoans out of Lagos and cut Makoko off from the Internet and the power grid, but the undaunted Makokans have created their own intranet and sustainable power, making them even more of an inspiration. When drinkable water is suddenly expensive and the government is increasingly oppressive, those who can create their own water, power and connectivity are abruptly afforded new levels of respect.

Once the rules of our storyworld were established, each student created a character of their own, through whose eyes they would more deeply explore the world by telling the story of a day in that character’s life. I was curious about what life would be like for individuals who were interstitial, who lived in the weird gray areas between Makoko and Lagos proper. My character, Michael Mwonaji, is a graphic novelist whose stories of an even more futuristic Lagos inspire fans all over the world. However, Michael draws much of his own inspiration from his bio-architect girlfriend Nada, a graduate student at the University of Lagos, because he wants his stories to present a plausible “actionable path to the future.” My story, Dry City: Turning Points, finds Michael forced to choose between losing Nada and leaving his family and community behind. I created Dry City: Turning Points as an 8-page photocomic illustrated with collaged-together found online images, much like how Michael creates his own graphic novels in the style of the 1960s Nigerian photocomic Lance Spearman.

Excerpts from Dry City: Turning Points and other student projects were showcased in the USC IMAX theater at the end of the spring 2016 semester, and in Kunlé Adeyemi’s Silver Lion-winning Makoko Floating School replica at the 2016 Venice Biennale.

Download: Dry City: Turning Points [PDF, 28MB]

Geoffrey Long