Pritzker Prize 2022 laureate Francis Kéré champions presence without pretence

Diébédo Francis Kéré becomes the first African architect to receive the architecture's highest honour for improving lives of countless citizens of a forgotten region.

by Zohra KhanPublished on : Mar 16, 2022

A defining memory of Diébédo Francis Kéré's childhood, which probably also marks his first experience of an engulfing sense of architecture was sitting huddled on the ground with children of his village in Gando (Burkina Faso), all waiting with curious ears to listen to a new story from his grandmother. The room used to be mostly dark, but she would manage to light it up with her voice. Sitting close to each other and being inspired together rendered the impression of a safe space for him. Gando was a vulnerable territory. It lacked clean drinking water, electricity, and infrastructure, let alone architecture. The eldest son of a village chief, Kéré had to leave home at the age of seven because there were no schools around him. Around 25 kilometres away, a make-shift school in Tenkodogo, in which over 100 students were packed in a space that heated like hell in the daytime, he did manage to study hard but in the overwhelming discomfort, he nurtured a dream that one day he would make schools better. Over the course of the next 50 years was when he brought his vision to reality, while persevering with modesty, resilience, and grace. 

On March 15, 2022, Kéré received architecture's highest honour, The Pritzker Architecture Prize, making him the first African architect to have won the award. The Pritzker jury, which includes 2016 laureate and award chair Alejandro Aravena, Yale School of Architecture Dean Deborah Berke, architecture historian Barry Bergdol, and 2012 and 2010 laureates Wang Shu and Kazuyo Sejima respectively, acknowledged Kéré's illustrious body of work in which architecture is not about the object but the objective; not the product but the process. “In a world in crisis, amidst changing values and generations, he reminds us of what has been, and will undoubtedly continue to be a cornerstone of architectural practice: a sense of community and narrative quality, which he himself is so able to recount with compassion and pride. In this he provides a narrative in which architecture can become a source of continued and lasting happiness and joy," the jury stated.

  • Gando Primary School laid the foundation of Francis Kéré 's architectural practice  | The Pritzker Architecture Prize | Francis Kéré | STIRworld
    Gando Primary School (2021, Gando, Burkina Faso) laid the foundation of Francis Kéré 's architectural practice Image: Erik-Jan Ouwerkerk
  • Francis initiated an international fundraiser and enabled opportunities for the locals of Gando to take part in the building's processes  | The Pritzker Architecture Prize | Francis Kéré | STIRworld
    Francis initiated an international fundraiser and enabled opportunities for the locals of Gando to take part in the building's processes Image: Erik-Jan Ouwerkerk

Kéré is the founder of Kéré Architecture, a practice rooted in local materiality and sustainable design techniques, which he founded in 2005 in Berlin. He also spearheads Kéré Foundation - established in 1998 - through which he serves people of his native land with grass-root initiatives, projects, and fundraisers. His formal journey in architecture started when he was sent to Berlin by his parents who wanted their son to be educated. Exposing himself to the European technical and experiential know-how, he would always return to his roots by mixing ideas of contemporary architecture with the indigenous building knowledge and cultural symbolism of Gando. The project that laid the foundation of his dream was a school in his home village, The Gando Primary School (2001). Before him were incredible constraints to realise an educational facility. These included combating extreme heat, working with limited resources, and surmounting poor lighting conditions. Drawing from his own upbringing of living and thriving with what's available, Kéré challenged the fragility of the landscape by fundraising internationally, empowering locals by providing opportunities in building craftsmanship, and devising a compound materiality composed of clay and cement that effectively responded to the context. The success of the project was such that it led to a burgeoning increase in student numbers (120 to 700), paving way to the development of a teacher's housing in 2004, an extension in 2008, and a library in 2009.

Surgical Clinic and Health Centre, 2014, Léo, Burkina Faso  | The Pritzker Architecture Prize | Francis Kéré | STIRworld
Surgical Clinic and Health Centre, 2014, Léo, Burkina Faso Image: Courtesy of Kéré Architecture

Pritzker acknowledged his key contribution to the art of architecture, saying, "Francis Kéré is pioneering architecture - sustainable to the earth and its inhabitants - in lands of extreme scarcity. He is equally architect and servant, improving upon the lives and experiences of countless citizens in a region of the world that is at times forgotten. [...] His buildings, for and with communities, are directly of those communities – in their making, their materials, their programs and their unique characters."

Lycée Schorge Secondary School, 2016, Koudougou, Burkina Faso | The Pritzker Architecture Prize | Francis Kéré | STIRworld
Lycée Schorge Secondary School, 2016, Koudougou, Burkina Faso Image: Courtesy of Kéré Architecture

A dual citizen of Berlin and Burkina Faso, Kéré is of the opinion that everyone deserves quality, luxury, and comfort. The ripple that he created with the Gando Primary School led to the development of several institutions, all of which demonstrated sensitivity to bioclimatic environments and sustainability distinctive to locality. Recent projects illustrating this approach include The Startup Lions Campus (2021, Tukana, Kenya), which uses local quarry stone and stacked towers for passive cooling, and the Burkina Institute of Technology (Phase 1, 2020, Koudougou, Burkina Faso), which employs cast in-situ cooling clay walls.

Serpentine Pavilion, 2017, London, United Kingdom | The Pritzker Architecture Prize | Francis Kéré | STIRworld
Serpentine Pavilion, 2017, London, United Kingdom Image: Iwan Baan

A recurring element often seen in Kéré's work is the design of structures evoking the form of a tree. The symbolism goes back to the architect's African upbringing in which storytelling, celebration, or simple exchange of ideas and thoughts take place under the shadows of a tree. The form of the 2017 Serpentine Pavilion designed by Kéré Architecture resonated this approach, added with more connections to his place of birth. The disconnected yet curved walls of the pavilion shaped of triangular indigo modules identified a colour representing the strength in his culture, the detached roof alluded to the buildings in Africa, and rainwater funnels in the pavilion's centre expressed the nation's scarcity of water. Another project by Kéré, titled Sarbale Ke Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival (2019, California), showcased a form akin to that of a hallowing baobab tree which finds deeps medicinal importance in Africa. Currently under construction, the Benin National Assembly (Porto-Novo, Republic of Benin) which sits on a public park, is inspired by the palaver tree.

Xylem, 2019, Montana, United States | The Pritzker Architecture Prize | Francis Kéré | STIRworld
Xylem, 2019, Montana, United States Image: Iwan Baan

Works coming out of Kéré's architectural practice are "tied to the ground on which they sit and to the people who sit within them. They have presence without pretence and an impact shaped by grace." One of his most pivotal projects that resulted from a national confidence is the National Assembly of Burkina Faso that remains unbuilt due to the COVID pandemic. The 127-person assembly hall is enclosed within a stepped and latticed pyramidal form, inside of which indigenous flora, exhibition spaces, and courtyards merge.

Burkina Faso National Assembly, In Progress, Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso | The Pritzker Architecture Prize | Francis Kéré | STIRworld
Burkina Faso National Assembly, In Progress, Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso Image: Courtesy of Kéré Architecture

Light is another factor that sees poetic revelations and fascinating applications in the spaces designed by Kéré. Be it the clay pot and concrete cast roof of the Gando Primary School whose serendipitous surface openings escaped heat while filtering light inside, or the eucalyptus frontage of the Benga Riverside School (2018, Tete, Mozambique) whose recurring voids allowed dappled light in, the interpretations of the divine light find magical routes within his architecture.

Startup Lions Campus, 2021, Turkana County, Kenya | The Pritzker Architecture Prize | Francis Kéré | STIRworld
Startup Lions Campus, 2021, Turkana County, Kenya Image: Courtesy of Kéré Architecture

While evaluating Kéré's contribution to architecture, the Pritzker jury delved into a poignant enquiry: "What is the right approach to the practice when working against all odds? Should it be modest and risk succumbing to adverse circumstances? Or is modesty the only way to be pertinent and achieve results? Should it be ambitious in order to inspire change? Or does ambition run the risk of being out of place and of resulting in architecture of mere wishful thinking?"

Léo Doctors’ Housing, 2019, Léo, Burkina Faso | The Pritzker Architecture Prize | Francis Kéré | STIRworld
Léo Doctors’ Housing, 2019, Léo, Burkina Faso Image: Courtesy of Kéré Architecture

Having found a cue in the practice of Francis Kéré, the jury commended his cultural sensitivity that not only delivers social and environmental justice, but guides his entire process, in the awareness that it is the path towards the legitimacy of a building in a community.

STIR congratulates Diebedo Francis Kéré for this glorious honour.

What do you think?

About Author

Recommended

LOAD MORE
see more articles
3961,3852,4072,3875,4056

Keep it stirring

get regular updates SIGN UP

This site uses cookies to offer you an improved and personalised experience. If you continue to browse, we will assume your consent for the same.
LEARN MORE AGREE