This MSC2 Research and Design studio is focused on one of the fastest urbanizing regions in the world: the African west coast between Cote d’Ivoire and Nigeria, where more than a dozen agglomerations and megacities, are stretched over a coastal area of several hundreds of miles. This creates an area that we named the 500 mile city, with a potential coherence and accumulative value comparable to other regions like the East coast of the United States or the Pearl River Delta in China.

The African 500 mile city however, in contrast to its American and Chinese stretches across five countries, with  different political systems, economies working at different speeds and complex relationships with each other. On an urban level, they are connected by a dynamic of urbanization due to immigration and economic growth which brings huge pressures on the livability and ecological sustainability of the area. Conversely, the urbanization process itself is hugely pressurized by the effects of climate change, making linear city between Accra and Lagos one of the areas most at risk both from the rising of the sea level, and the swelling of rivers such as the Volta and the Niger.

But there is more holding this region together. This part of West Africa has a very old, precolonial, precolonial history of urban civilization and states, with great examples in the Dahomey and Benin kingdoms. This shared history was however hacked into pieces during colonial times, that also brought with them a series of trading posts later developing into the metropolises of today. There is, in other words a large historical heritage to be found on the ground as a cultural backbone to the 500 Mile City.

In this research and design studio students  develop Urban and Architectural design projects based on extensive fieldwork in West Africa, exploring this area though the perspective of modern new town planning and try to conceptualize and explain these conurbation as part of the present global urbanization. How can we understand these large urban areas as a physical manifestation of its various backgrounds? How can we use the design models used by architects and urban planners for new town planning in the past to deal with this rapid urban growth? What are the contemporary planning issues of the new cities of the 21st century? Can the developed and developing nations learn from each other in the planning and development of new towns? And what effects does this have on the daily lives and the economies of the regions involved?