Sénamé Koffi Agbodjinou, a utopian in his city

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Sénamé Koffi Agbodjinou in 2017.

Some will say of him that he is a utopian, others that he is a visionary. No doubt he is a bit of both… Sénamé Koffi Agbodjinou, a 41-year-old Togolese architect, who studied at the Parisian school of La Villette before returning to Lomé, the capital of his country, is certainly an intellectual. , but also a man of action.

His project, called “Hubcité”, invites the inhabitants of a district of his city to “Set out to reconquer urban initiative through technologies”. There, sixty residents have been working since 2012 to develop digital start-ups to better manage their neighborhood. When one intelligently collects plastic waste, the other manages the production of collective organic vegetable gardens, while the third is responsible for manufacturing 3D printers from computer waste. Within his Hubcité, Sénamé Koffi Agbodjinou imagines a city where each district would have its 3D printer to build, from local materials and collectively, the attributes of the African city of the future.

But the more the architect leans in, the more he is dizzy. His dream of the African cities of tomorrow, on a continent where the urban population grows by 21 million people each year (according to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, the OECD), may indeed turn into a nightmare. These prospects, which he does not take his eyes off, make him fear the emergence of urban monsters on his continent. An aggregation of mega-cities which, by dint of expanding, will inexorably end up coming together if nothing is mastered. “These conurbations will be of a new kind, straddling several countries. Urban reality will supplant that of States ”, presages the town planner, who created his association, L’Africaine d’Architecture, in Lomé, in 2010. According to his predictions, Togo could quickly find itself in the heart of a huge new city in which the populations will have been swallowed up. from four capitals of the Gulf of Guinea: Abidjan in Ivory Coast, Accra in Ghana, Lomé in Togo, Porto Novo in Benin. Finally associated with Lagos, the economic capital of Nigeria, they will become one.

Urbanism and anthropology

In order for life to remain possible in 2050 on this continent, where more than one in five urban people on the planet will reside, there is an urgent need to counter the ecological impact of an anarchic development of mastodon cities. “And yet Africans have still not gathered to discuss the face of their cities tomorrow”, regrets Sénamé Koffi Agbodjinou, pleading for the establishment of colleges of experts within regional bodies in order to think about sustainable cities. While waiting for the debate to germinate, the architect is sorry to see Western urban models, marked by concrete and verticality, duplicated in Africa. “These cities, which do not correspond to the anthropological realities of Africans, will end up changing our way of being”, deplores the architect, also passed by the School of higher studies in social sciences (EHESS) of Paris.

He, who defines the city as “A mediation prescribing the way in which men interact with each other”, continues to mix urbanism and anthropology. Through L’Africaine d’Architecture, he distils, according to his projects, the attributes of what he calls the “African neovernacular city”. A new utopia inspired by African habitats and traditions, which would take into account environmental factors and would be built with local materials, shaped by its inhabitants.

Mobility, waste and resource management, economy, political decisions: technologies would make the city smarter, more sustainable and more democratic

“We have to think of a new scheme of city which does not do violence to rurality, because the latter is constitutive of the African personality and our conception of society”, underlines the town planner. In his ideal city, classic concrete buildings would disappear in favor of earthen buildings of medium verticality, more open to each other, to maintain links between neighbors, like those that unite the inhabitants of the same town. Inside these earthen buildings, it would be cooler during the day and cooler at night, their energy impact would thus be reduced. Around them, space would be left to nature to allow inhabitants to produce what they consume, as in the village.

Its utopia around the African city of the future is synonymous with a return to roots but mixed with digital innovation. Mobility, waste and resource management, economy, political decisions: technologies would make the city smarter, more sustainable and more democratic. “On condition that they are developed by Africans and with a collectivist goal, not to make money, as is currently the case with the GAFA [Google, Apple, Facebook et Amazon] », insists the Togolese. A real fear for him, at a time when the offensive of the digital giants is accelerating on African cities, little exploited vectors of growth, where everything remains to be done.

This article was produced as part of a partnership with the Veolia Institute.

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The World Africa and The World Cities organize, on Thursday, December 9, 2021, a conference on African urbanization and its social, economic, environmental and political issues. This is the fourth part which closes the cycle of debates “Tomorrow, the African city”.

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Conference | “From Rabat to Cape Town, Africa as a sustainable continent of the 22nd century”
Thursday, December 9, 9 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.
Auditorium of World, 67 Avenue Pierre Mendès France, 75013 Paris
See the detailed morning program.

Summary of our series “African cities facing their future”