Lome – WoeLab

Lome – WoeLab

 HubCité is an alternative and participatory vision of urban planning created by the African architect and which questions classic regulatory and elitist approaches. the initiative was born in TOGO, a West African country with an estimated population of 8 million inhabitants .The initiative offers a participatory model where residents themselves decide the future of their neighborhood. This is possible thanks to the installation in specific locations of a network of tech’hubs accessible to the public, which promotes the sharing and learning of “LowHighTech” technologies which easily include all actors such as low-income people who have frequented these places, with their capacity for collective mobilization over a long period, their capacity to think, design and create the city of tomorrow by themselves.

The objective here is to project the African city into the future with a plus that takes into account the collaborative aspect (ArchiCamps) which represents moments of rituals for the villagers + the collaborative work places (RepLABs) which are equivalent to the places of initiation in a village context in order to have it designed by business projects that will emerge from it. The first example resulting from the RepLABS model is WoeLab#0 which is nothing other than an urbanization space taking into account coworking+marketspace+startups-studio. To be clearer, it is a sort of so-called 2.0 house which has the contract to positively impact its proximity over a radius of one kilometer around the lab in all urban aspects (resources, mobility, waste management , governance…). this model is called Grassroot Technology Incubator.

To move from an entrepreneurship model to the total economic ecosystem, a program called #SiliconVilla was created and gave life to 11 startups, prototyped and incubated at WoeLAB. all these startups are owned by the communities that arise from the Lab and are built on the vision that the entrepreneur is called upon to replace the architect, the urban planner, or the decision-maker in the production of the city. #SiliconVillage, like Hubcité, aims to solve the most problems encountered by cities to become the main driver of their transformation.

The process behind the project : The HubCité was inspired by village society, the methodology is inspired and driven by the reproduction of village and city conditions. Inspiration from the fact that traditional African societies produce very relevant solutions thanks to long experience, social harmony and a very intimate knowledge of their environment. An experience which is very difficult to reproduce in large cities where the decision-making choices are left to the decision-maker and specialists who do not always have solutions adapted to the problems. The vision is therefore to transfer the model of cohesion, adaptation, collaborative work and integration from villages to cities. An example would be Barcamps and Fablabs which have the potential while combining Camps + Lab which could lead us towards the vernacular city of tomorrow. It is therefore the cohesion of the villages both in the work, in the synergy of the actors, in the creation of ideas of the common good that we have in our sights by bringing together well-identified digital solidarity projects and original organizations appearing in the wake of ICT and which forms a collaborative niche. The project elaborators firmly believe that new technologies have the potential to support them in the implementation of urban vernacular. Hence the expression #LowHighTech Theory.

Observation of the villages made it possible to highlight three elements which define their effectiveness and efficiency: Times, places, and long term. The moments representing traditional celebrations, funeral, agrarian, initiation rites etc… which are also opportunities for reunions, sharing, transmission, sharing, assessment of transmission, strengthening the cohesion of village communities. Places of seclusion, initiation enclosures, which promote horizontality within age groups, trust and solidarity through palaver, codified jokes, group fellowship and the obligation to share. the collaboration on work of collective interest that its village spaces offer have the same function of intimacy and symbiosis. These elements guarantee villages a harmonious living environment specific to their requirements. These three elements are rare in cities which struggle to find a certain harmony in their living environments. It is therefore the absence of a so-called genius of the place like the African installations that the fate of the cities finds itself in the hands of the said specialists, politicians, architects and experts. To respond to this absence, Barcamps and Fablabs can compensate for the absence of place and time. Over time, it can be reproduced thanks to the abundance of technologies available to us today such as OpenSourceMap. This is therefore how we are moving towards vernacular cities: by combining technology and citizen collaboration.

The project extends over a long, divided period, inspired by the traditional organic model. Equipped with a generative approach, the project does not rely on a fixed objective on the wall but rather on a clear motive, a motivation and a motivator. It is therefore these factors that define the guidelines to follow for the next steps.

In 2012, upon discovering the Maker movement, a connection between hacker ethics and African traditional building practices was made. This proximity inspired the concept of #LowHighTech and the “HubCité” project, aiming to develop African cities around open innovation. This initiative Evolved into a social framework, fostering the emergence of a local tech scene in Lomé, Togo. The #RepLab program aims to introduce this approach into neighborhoods by creating eco-friendly technology hubs. WoeLab, a multifunctional space, promotes values of open sharing and seeks to reconnect technology with modest African traditions. Its mission includes promoting virtuous technologies like the W.Afate while balancing individualism and collective convergence. WoeLab’s #LowHighTech philosophy acts as a filter, selecting what best suits the African context and rejecting what doesn’t. Overall, it’s a “glocal” framework arbitrating temporalities and external influences to foster vernacular and sustainable development.

The project considers the common as fundamental taking into account the aspects of sharing, community, collaboration, openness. For example three levels of the urban, space and noise:

At the urban level, startups are designed to be owned and managed by the communities of the different Labs. Not business leaders but rather all the communities belonging to the lab who own it. The startups together generate shared wealth redistributed within the community, including all members belonging to the community. all working on urban themes: waste management, mobility, communication and resource management in order to respond to as many problems as possible.

At the social level of each of the incubators, the common is invited again to the extent that leadership governance inspired by the age class system of traditional African structures, guarantees shared responsibility and collective involvement. The executives of each startup are chosen by the groups and with a specific mandate after which they become mentors. The same structure is valid for the development of projects.

The collectivist model here inspired by village communities, where poverty or property is common goes against the capitalist model which diverts opinion from the notion of sharing, openness and social. For us, the ideal city remains the one produced by the city dwellers themselves and for themselves to the extent that they have the capacity to project themselves into the future and respond to their own requirements.

The initiative currently attracts little institutional interest in Togo. In a perspective similar to a “third industrial revolution” such as the theory by Jeremy Rifkind, each of the labs is supposed to become a source of energy, an attic, the waste recycling center, a 2.0 university, a small factory. .. Instead, programs such as 3DprintAfrica were set up to involve the population, each Lab for the needs of prototyping and manufacturing objects.

The initiative does not receive support from the government, despite its relevance, and the enthusiasm it has internationally. Everything suggests that the project remains marginalized in Togo.

The project has been self-financing for 4 years of existence. Far from an obligation, it is a choice in order to enjoy total independence and keep the same vision conceived from the development of the project. The different aid and financing systems are intended to bring about changes in the structure of projects due to the dependence on funds, a situation which has favored corruption in African states. It is therefore with the aim of avoiding any external hands that could harm the survival of the project that we preferred to operate with our own funds, and our vision while engaging the strength of the communities. Such social and radical innovation owes its strength first of all to the community that composes it before expecting any kind of help or funding and this is our vision.

Sénamé Koffi Agbodjinou, with a diverse educational background in industrial design, art history, ethnology, and architecture (although without official academic credentials), focuses on architecture, emphasizing simple and modest solutions while highlighting local human, natural, and aesthetic resources. In 2010, he established the collaborative research platform L’Africaine d’Architecture, dedicated to promoting what he terms “anchored modernity”. His interest in digital technology, sparked in 2012, stems from perceived parallels between the “Hacker Ethic” and traditional African values. He introduced the concept of #LowHighTech to make technology accessible to all, including the most marginalized populations. Through his urban program HubCité, he established the WoeLab Space of Technological Democracy in Lomé, providing a space for mobilization and collective action. WoeLab aims to support the Togolese tech and startup ecosystem while contributing to the global movement of Collaborative Consumption.