Diébédo Francis Kéré, photo courtesy of Lars Borges
“I am hoping to change the paradigm, push people to dream and undergo risk. It is not because you are rich that you should waste material. It is not because you are poor that you should not try to create quality,” says Kéré. “Everyone deserves quality, everyone deserves luxury, and everyone deserves comfort. We are interlinked and concerns in climate, democracy and scarcity are concerns for us all.”
-Diébédo Francis Kéré
Diébédo Francis Kéré, architect, educator and social activist, has been selected as the 2022 Laureate of the Pritzker Architecture Prize, announced Tom Pritzker, Chairman of The Hyatt Foundation, which sponsors the award that is regarded internationally as architecture’s highest honor.
Born in Gando, Burkina Faso and based in Berlin, Germany, the architect known as Francis Kéré empowers and transforms communities through the process of architecture. Through his commitment to social justice and engagement, and intelligent use of local materials to connect and respond to the natural climate, he works in marginalized countries laden with constraints and adversity, where architecture and infrastructure are absent. Building contemporary school institutions, health facilities, professional housing, civic buildings and public spaces, oftentimes in lands where resources are fragile and fellowship is vital, the expression of his works exceeds the value of a building itself.
Thanks to direct contact with users, it was possible to collect some of the dominant issues that were taken into account during the design: the result is a structure that works on more than one spatial scale trying to integrate attention to the context, enhancement of services and sustainability.
The impact of his work in primary and secondary schools catalyzed the inception of many institutions, each demonstrating sensitivity to bioclimatic environments and sustainability distinctive to locality, and impacting many generations. Startup Lions Campus (2021, Turkana, Kenya), an information and communication technologies campus, uses local quarry stone and stacked towers for passive cooling to minimize the air conditioning required to protect technology equipment. Burkina Institute of Technology (Phase I, 2020, Koudougou, Burkina Faso) is composed of cooling clay walls that were cast in-situ to accelerate the building process. Overhanging eucalyptus, regarded as inefficient due to its minimal shading abilities yet depletion of nutrients from the soil, were repurposed to line the angled corrugated metal roofs, which protect the building during the country’s brief rainy reason, and rainwater is collected underground to irrigate mango plantations on the premises.
The national confidence and embrace of Kéré has prompted one of the architect’s most pivotal and ambitious projects, the National Assembly of Burkina Faso (Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso), which was commissioned, although remains unbuilt amidst present uncertain times. After the Burkinabè uprising in 2014 destroyed the former structure, the architect designed a stepped and lattice pyramidal building, housing a 127-person assembly hall on the interior, while encouraging informal congregation on the exterior. Enabling new views, physically and metaphorically, this is one piece to a greater master plan, envisioned to include indigenous flora, exhibition spaces, courtyards, and a monument to those who lost their lives in protest of the old regime.
A poetic expression of light is consistent throughout Kéré’s works. Rays of sun filter into buildings, courtyards and intermediary spaces, overcoming harsh midday conditions to offer places of serenity or gathering. The concrete roof of Gando Primary School Library was poured around a grid of traditional clay pots, that once extracted, left openings allowing heat to escape while circular beams of natural light could linger and illuminate the interiors. A facade constructed of eucalyptus wood surrounds the elliptical building, creating flexible outdoor spaces that emit light vertically. Benga Riverside School (2018, Tete, Mozambique) features walls patterned with small recurring voids, allowing light and transparency to evoke feelings of trust from its students. The walls of Centre for Health and Social Welfare (2014, Laongo, Burkina Faso) are adorned with a pattern of framed windows at varying heights to offer picturesque views of the landscape for everyone, from a standing doctor to a sitting visitor to a lying patient.
Kéré’s designs are laced with symbolism and his works outside of Africa are influenced by his upbringing and experiences in Gando. The West African tradition of communing under a sacred tree to exchange ideas, narrate stories, celebrate and assemble, is recurrent throughout. Sarbalé Ke at Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival (2019, California, United States) translates to “House of Celebration” in his native Bissa language, and references the shape of the hollowing baobab tree, revered in his homeland for its medicinal properties. The Serpentine Pavilion (2017, London, United Kingdom) also takes its central shape from the form of a tree and its disconnected yet curved walls are formed by triangular indigo modules, identifying with a color representing strength in his culture and more personally, a blue boubou garment worn by the architect as a child. The detached roof resonates with that of his buildings in Africa, but inside the pavilion, rainwater funnels into the center of the structure, highlighting water scarcity that is experienced worldwide. The Benin National Assembly (Porto-Novo, Republic of Benin), currently under construction and situated on a public park, is inspired by the palaver tree. While parliament convenes on the inside, citizens may also assemble under the vast shade at the base of the building.
Many of Kéré’s built works are located in Africa, in countries including the Republic of Benin, Burkino Faso, Mali, Togo, Kenya, Mozambique, Togo, and Sudan. Pavilions and installations and have been created in Denmark, Germany, Italy, Switzerland, the United Kingdom and the United States. Significant works also include Xylem at Tippet Rise Art Centre (2019, Montana, United States), Léo Doctors’ Housing (2019, Léo, Burkina Faso), Lycée Schorge Secondary School (2016, Koudougou, Burkina Faso), the National Park of Mali (2010, Bamako, Mali) and Opera Village (Phase I, 2010, Laongo, Burkina Faso). Kéré established Kéré Foundation in 1998 to serve the inhabitants of Gando through the development of projects, partnerships and fundraising; and Kéré Architecture in 2005 in Berlin, Germany. Kéré is the 51st Laureate of the Pritzker Architecture Prize, and is a dual citizen of Burkina Faso and Germany.