Lagos / Koolhaas

Directed by Bregtje van der Haak

55 minutes / Color
English / English subtitles
Release: 2003
Copyright: 2002

Lagos' population is expected to reach 24 million people by 2020, which would make it the third largest city in the world. Every hour, 21 new inhabitants set out to start a life in the city, a life that is highly unpredictable and requires risk taking, networking and improvisation as essential strategies for survival.

Rem Koolhaas - winner of architecture's Nobel, the Pritzker Architecture Prize - is a Professor of Architecture and Urban Design at Harvard. For the past four years Koolhaas and students from The Harvard Project on the City have come to Lagos regularly to research the type of urban environment that is produced by explosive population growth. The Project on the City is framed by two concepts: academia's bewilderment with new forms of accelerated urbanization in developing regions and the maelstrom of redevelopment in existing urban areas, and the failure of the design professions to adequately cope with these changes.

LAGOS / KOOLHAAS follows Koolhaas during his research in Lagos over a period of two years as he wanders through the city, talking with people and recognizing the problems with water, electricity and traffic. But instead of judging the city to be doomed, he is able to interpret this 'culture of congestion' positively, thereby creating a completely new concept of the big city. For Koolhaas, the key to understanding a city such as Lagos is the realization that it is not the controllable result of Western planning. The city should be seen as an anarchic organism in which the enterprise of the inhabitants turns any apparent disadvantage into an advantage: "Anguish over the city's shortcomings in traditional urban systems obscures the reasons for the continued, exuberant existence of Lagos and other megacities like it. These shortcomings have generated ingenious, critical alternative systems."

Thus, for Koolhaas and his team, Lagos is a case study of a city at the forefront of a globalizing modernity: "Lagos is not catching up with us. Rather, we may be catching up with Lagos…”

"Highly Recommended! Excellent production values... easy to view and understand. Rem Koolhaas has done it again."—Educational Media Reviews Online

"The juxtaposition of empirical descriptions of the city life with theoretical insights is ideally suited for classroom screenings in urban studies, qualitative research methods, geography, anthropology, global studies, Africa studies and virtually any other branch of the social sciences that is devoted to in-depth qualitative empirical research. It is one of the best documentaries I know that can demonstrate in a compelling and sophisticated yet accessible way how to embark on research projects. Highly recommended!"—Anthropology Review Database (January, 2010)

Other Ways to Watch

Colleges, Universities, Government Agencies, Hospitals, and Corporations

Purchase DVD for $348.00

Available for educational streaming from:


Written and Directed by Bregtje van der Haak
Produced by Sylvia Baan for Pieter van Huystee Film

Select Accolades

  • 2004 African Studies Association Film Festival
  • 2003 Architects Series, Museum of Modern Art (New York)
  • 2003 Marseille International Documentary Film Festival
  • 2003 International Environmental Film Festival (Rhodes, Egypt)
  • 2004 Wellesly College African Film Festival


French President Nicolas Sarkozy wants to turn Paris into the model super-metropolis for the 21st century, and plenty of world-class architects would like the job.

Bregtje van der Haak | 2010 | 50 minutes | Color | English subtitles