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Makoko, a community located in Lagos, Nigeria, houses 150,000 individuals who live in homes just slightly raised above the Lagos Lagoon.

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The population in Makoko continues to grow. 

Photographer Iwan Baan is fascinated by the ingenious and the unexpected, the rare and miraculous feats of mankind. In a recent series showcased at TED, he captures the surprising homes carved out in underserved communities across the globe, painting a poignant portrait of the resilience of the human spirit.

Finding comfort within the most unexpected places— abandoned buildings, muddied lagoons, and underground dwellings— Baan’s subjects more deeply explore the meaning of the home, family, and community. With the utmost care and meticulous attention to detail, disadvantaged families form thriving communities, pulsating with vitality and character.

The inhabitants of these unusual communities function almost entirely without government aid or interference, using only their own inventive prowess to make a livable space. The lack of resources seems only to fuel the drive to create a beautiful home; in stark contrast to an exterior overtaken with trash bags and a makeshift cow farm next door, a young couple builds a home in Egypt’s Zabaleen, gorgeously ornamented with filigreed, tasseled furnishings and a large wedding photograph.

Throughout each inventive, independent network is a strong sense of community as told through spaces of leisure and worship. In makeshift churches, the people pray; small religious idols sit modestly beside the effects of daily life. In an incomplete elevator shaft, we discover a boisterous basketball game. Baan’s subjects are not victims but brilliant planners and architects, and the work is a testament to their creativity. Ultimately, his lens serves as a warning against the suburban, Levittown “sameness” of our culture and infrastructures, reminding us of the importance of a unique home that realizes our creative potential, a familial space wherein we might derive pride and a strong sense of identity.

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The residents have adapted to life on the lagoon and often engage in leisure activities like concerts and live events on the water.

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As the government attempts to clear the area with forced evictions, the architect Kunle Adeyemi creates a large school to foster community.

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In Egypt, beneath the Mokahattam rocks, the people of Zabaleen support themselves by collecting and recycling the waste products of residences and businesses in Cairo.

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The slums of Caracas, Venezuela overtake the city’s rolling hills, housing 70% of its people.

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A newlywed couple in Cairo, Egypt lovingly furnishes their home with the means available to them.
The scent of a next-door cow farm wafts in through the walls.

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The Torre David, a 45-story building in Caracas, was left unfinished after its developer died in the 1990s. Today, it serves as a vertical slum, operating like an independent city, complete with grocery stores and barber shops.

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The elderly residents occupy the ground floor, as there are no lifts in the tall building.

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Holes allow for better airflow and help residents navigate the internal infrastructure of the community.

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Every home has a loving, personal touch. Here, newspaper decorates the walls.

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The building has its own gym. Here, a man lifts weights made from old elevator hardware.

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Living amongst heaps of trash is a normal part of daily life.

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Underground dwellings, called yaodongs, spread across the Shanxi, Gansu, and Henan provinces in China. Carved out of relatively soft soil, they house approximately 40 million individuals. 

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Communities chip in to help farmers build yaodongs, which cost next to nothing to make and maintain.

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