PUBLIC DEFENCE – Chukwuemeka Vincent Chukwuemeka
“Emergent Spatialities in Urban Africa: 
Case Study of Onitsha Markets in Nigeria”


  • Date: 12 January 2022
  • Location: Due to covid measures, the public defence will be online. You can attend the defense via this link (ZOOM)
  • Timing: 5 p.m. CET
  • Official invitation and registration: click here


The KU Leuven Faculty of Architecture kindly invites you to attend the public PhD defence of Chukwuemeka Vincent Chukwuemeka.


Most cities in Africa are urbanizing exponentially, atypically without industrialization, and are confronted with inadequate basic infrastructure, deficient spatial quality, and livability. More than half a century has passed since most of the countries in Africa gained independence and yet, urban poverty, unsustainable urban growth with dystopian inclinations remain abound. The current planning policies and approaches in urban Africa have failed to improve this trend, along with the living conditions of people. They are mostly structured to benefit the political class, segregationist, non-contextual, obsolete, and in most cases, unimplementable, or simply nonexistent. Onitsha in Nigeria is one of these cities, and comprises a conglomeration of markets amidst limited conventional urban infrastructure. On one hand, Onitsha markets drive and define the exponential urban growth processes within the city and its periphery. On the other hand, these markets with associated activities and by-products contribute to the challenges of limited livability in the city. The market related spatial phenomena in Onitsha are the culmination of urban conditions in the city, shaped by nexus and totalities of contextual forces and material flows, amidst spatial contestations and hybrid relations. Onitsha city has the highest intensities of the urban market phenomenon in Nigeria, with trading happening in almost every corner of the city, positioning the city both as a market and a city. Recent interpretations of the market spatial related phenomena in the city often fall into the informality discourse. However, informality as a conceptual framework is inadequate for Onitsha, and to extension, cities in post-colonial Africa. Informality as currently constituted in the discourse, is ontologically embedded in the colonial logic of extreme Otherness, and is a reductionist reading of a complex urban phenomena, which is manifest in the spatialities of urban Africa.

The aim of the doctoral research is to obtain critical insights of constraints and possibilities on the mechanisms and forms of space production in Onitsha through readings on the making, uses, accessibility, and appropriations of urban market spaces in the city, understood as emergent collective infrastructures and part of self-organization processes of urban growth. The research seeks to understand how these markets, and their constituting spatialities are inextricably interwoven with urban transformations, growth, and livability in the city. Case study on two markets, Main-Market and Bridgehead-Market at Onitsha was conducted, using mixed paradigm and mixed methods approaches. These two markets were selected from forty-four markets in the city, under three criteria of growth trajectory, territorial organization, and spatial intensities. Spatial readings on the two case studies within Onitsha context was conducted using analytical frameworks of physicality, material flows, and sociality. Findings show that the modes of production of space in Onitsha reflect emergent behaviors in various ways, as organic responses and survival mechanisms to extreme uncertainties, emanating from the entrenched colonial planning and governance logic of extreme Otherness in Nigeria. Through critical reflections on findings, and writing discourse, arguments are put forward to rethink pedagogy, research, and practices within architecture, urban design, and planning disciplines in general for urban Africa. The doctoral thesis presents an opportunity to develop alternative frameworks and new tools to address the questions of how to re-read, re-design, re-plan, and re-negotiate the constantly changing and rapidly growing cities in post-colonial African States. It also contributes to discourses on emergent dynamics and self-organization processes of urban growth in low- and middle-income countries, and further suggests potential strategies towards sustainable, livable, equitable, and environment friendly urban futures.



Examination committee


Prof. Dr. Kris Scheerlinck (supervisor, KU Leuven, Faculty of Architecture)

Prof. Dr. Yves Schoonjans (co- supervisor, KU Leuven, Faculty of Architecture)

Prof. Dr. Ike Onyegiri (co- supervisor, Imo State University, Faculty of Environmental Sciences, Department of Architecture)


Prof. Dr. Viviana d’Auria (KU Leuven, Faculty of Engineering Science)

Dr. Leeke Reinders (TU Delft – Faculty of Architecture and the Built Environment)

Dr. Jeroen Stevens (KU Leuven, Faculty of Engineering Science)


Prof. Dr. Zegeye Cherenet (Addis Ababa University, Ehiopian institute of Architecture, building construction and city development (EiABC)

Prof. Dag Boutsen (KU Leuven, Faculty of Architecture)


Prof. Dr. Martino Tattara (KU Leuven, Faculty of Architecture)