Human Architecture –Diébédo Francis Kéré won the Pritzker Prize. He made a name for himself with a series of schools, institutional buildings, medical facilities in Africa and public housing, all designed to empower local communities living in territories challenged by extreme climate conditions and times of scarcity. We narrate his values and vision through some of his most notable projects in Africa and beyond.
His first completed building, the Gando Primary School – 2001, Burkina Faso – was developed from his graduation project. The facility uses locally sourced materials and natural cooling to avoid the need for air conditioning. Indigenous clay was fortified with cement to form bricks with bioclimatic thermal mass, retaining cooler air inside while allowing heat to escape through a brick ceiling and wide, overhanging, elevated roof, resulting in ventilation without the mechanical intervention of air conditioning.
The Startup Lions Campus – 2021, Turkana, Kenya – is an information and communication technologies campus using local quarry stone and stacked towers for passive cooling to minimize the air conditioning required to protect technology equipment.
The Burkina Institute of Technology – Phase I, 2020, Koudougou, Burkina Faso – is composed of cooling clay walls cast in situ to accelerate the building process. Overhanging eucalyptus trees are regarded as inefficient due to their minimal shading abilities yet depletion of nutrients from the soil. In this case, they were repurposed to line the angled corrugated metal roofs, which protect the building during the country’s brief rainy reason. Rainwater is collected underground to irrigate mango plantations on the premises.
Throughout Kéré’s works, light plays a fundamental role. 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 the Gando Primary School Library was poured around a grid of traditional clay pots that, once extracted, left openings allowing heat to escape. At the same time, 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.
The Benga Riverside School – 2018, Tete, Mozambique – features walls patterned with small recurring voids, allowing light and transparency to evoke trust from its students. Centre for Health and Social Welfare walls – 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.
One of Kéré’s most pivotal and ambitious projects is the National Assembly of Burkina Faso – Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, still 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 an informal congregation on the exterior.
The Benin National Assembly – Porto-Novo, Republic of Benin, currently under construction – 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.
The West African tradition of communing under a sacred tree to exchange ideas, narrate stories, celebrate and assemble is recurrent throughout. The Sarbalé Ke pavilion 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.
The Serpentine Pavilion – 2017, London, United Kingdom – also takes its central shape from the form of a tree. 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.
All photos: courtesy of the Pritzker Architecture Prize.
- RELATED STORIES: Read more about the Pritzker Architecture Prize on Archipanic…