West African Architect Francis Kéré Wins the 2022 Pritzker Prize
The Germany-based architect is known for designing sustainable community buildings that serve impoverished areas
He did so in part by designing and building a school in his home village of Gando in 2001 that mitigates the intense heat. Bricks of local clay form a structure that keeps cool air inside while allowing heat to vent through a brick ceiling, creating a comfortable interior without the need for mechanical air conditioning. Kéré’s structure helped increase the student body from 120 to 700 and launched additional structures by the architect, including housing for teachers and a library. His career has since been defined by locally made, sustainable structures that transform communities.
“I’m hoping to change the paradigm, push people to dream and undergo risk,” Kéré said in the announcement of the award. “It’s 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. 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.”
Kéré, who goes by his middle name, Francis, was born in 1965 in Burkina Faso, one of the world’s least educated and most impoverished nations, according to a biography supplied by the Pritzker Prize committee.
“I grew up in a community where there was no kindergarten, but where community was your family,” Kéré said. “Everyone took care of you and the entire village was your playground. My days were filled with securing food and water, but also simply being together, talking together, building houses together. I remember the room where my grandmother would sit and tell stories with a little light, while we would huddle close to each other and her voice inside the room enclosed us, summoning us to come closer and form a safe place. This was my first sense of architecture.”
In 1985, he moved to Berlin on a vocational carpentry scholarship. He learned to build roofs and furniture during the day. At night, he attended secondary classes. In 1995, he was awarded a scholarship to attend Technische Universität Berlin (Berlin Institute of Technology); he graduated in 2004 with an advanced degree in architecture.
While still earning his degree, Kéré raised $50,000 (around £37,862) to create his first building, the Gando Primary School (pictured), in his home village. He designed and built the structure with help from community members, using mostly bricks made of local red clay.
The structure earned Kéré the prestigious Aga Khan Award for Architecture in 2004, and was the springboard for establishing his practice, Kéré Architecture, in Berlin the following year.
Kéré went on to create more schools, as well as medical facilities and community spaces, throughout Burkina Faso, Kenya, Mozambique and Uganda. His structures provide academic education for children, medical treatment and vocational training for adults, all of which help strengthen communities.
“Good architecture in Burkina Faso is a classroom where you can sit, have light that is filtered entering the way that you want to use it, across a blackboard or on a desk,” Kéré said. “How can we take away the heat coming from the sun, but use the light to our benefit? Creating climate conditions to give basic comfort allows for true teaching, learning and excitement.”
At the Gando school, an elevated overhanging roof allows heat to vent through a brick ceiling. Kéré used remnant building materials to make furniture for the interior.
“Francis Kéré’s entire body of work shows us the power of materiality rooted in place,” the Pritzker Prize jury said in its announcement. “His buildings, for and with communities, are directly of those communities – in their making, their materials, their programs and their unique characters. They are tied to the ground on which they sit and to the people who sit within them. They have presence without pretense and an impact shaped by grace.”
In addition to his work throughout Africa, Kéré has designed structures in the United States. Xylem (pictured) is a concert space at the Tippet Rise Art Center in Montana, north of Yellowstone National Park. Its design was inspired by wood-and-straw gathering spaces found in small Burkenabè villages.
Xylem is constructed of raw, local, sustainable pine wood logs grouped in circular bundles within a modular hexagonal steel structure.
For a temporary installation at the 2019 Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival in Indo, California, Kéré designed steel towers inspired by baobab trees native to his homeland. The pink, orange and blue wooden triangular panels are meant to mimic the colours of sunrises and sunsets.
Air flows through the central courtyard, giving students a comfortable gathering space. Clay walls, made on-site, help keep the interiors cool. Eucalyptus trunks line angled corrugated metal roofs. Underground reservoirs collect rainwater that’s used to irrigate mango plantations on the property.
“His cultural sensitivity 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,” the jury said. “He knows, from within, that architecture is not about the object but the objective; not the product, but the process.”
In 2010, Kéré redeveloped eight existing facilities at the National Park of Mali, which is located between the National Museum of Mali and the presidential palace. One structure (pictured) sits atop a natural rock formation and is made from indigenous stone. The wide, detached overhanging roof facilitates passive cooling.
“Francis Kéré’s work also reminds us of the necessary struggle to change unsustainable patterns of production and consumption, as we strive to provide adequate buildings and infrastructure for billions in need,” the jury said. “He raises fundamental questions of the meaning of permanence and durability of construction in a context of constant technological changes and of use and re-use of structures. At the same time, his development of a contemporary humanism merges a deep respect for history, tradition, precision, written and unwritten rules.”
Kéré’s Serpentine Pavilion was a temporary structure in London’s Kensington Gardens. The central, standalone structure was inspired by the shape of a tree. A blue boubou garment Kéré had worn as a child inspired the indigo modules that formed the curved outer walls.
Ten modular units featuring Kéré’s signature use of indigenous materials and overhanging roofs comprise the Surgical Clinic and Health Centre in Léo, Burkina Faso (pictured), which provides surgical, maternity and in-patient services through the organisation Operieren in Afrika.
Buildings at the Centre for Health and Social Welfare in Laongo, Burkina Faso (pictured), feature walls made of local clay and laterite stone, and roofs made of eucalyptus wood. Shaded courtyards connect three interlocking units that provide services in the areas of gynaecology and obstetrics, dentistry and general medicine.
Léo Doctors’ Housing (pictured) accommodates medical residents and volunteers at the Surgical Clinic and Health Centre in Léo, Burkina Faso. The five modular residences are composed of compressed, stabilised earth blocks coated with plaster that help block heat and prevent weathering.
At the Lycée Schorge Secondary School in Koudougou, Burkina Faso, nine modular buildings surround a central community space for performances, celebrations and gatherings. Vertical eucalyptus wood forms a fence and offers shade for spaces for students and teachers.
“Kéré understood that an apparently simple goal – namely, to make it possible for children to attend school comfortably – had to be at the heart of his architectural project,” the jury said. “Sustainability for a great majority of the world is not preventing undesirable energy loss so much as undesirable energy gains. For too many people in developing countries, the problem is extreme heat, rather than cold.
“In response, he developed an ad-hoc, highly performative and expressive architectural vocabulary: double roofs, thermal mass, wind towers, indirect lighting, cross ventilation and shade chambers (instead of conventional windows, doors and columns) have not only become his core strategies, but have actually acquired the status of built dignity.”
A planned Burkinabè national assembly building, meant to replace the former parliament building destroyed during a 2014 uprising, will feature a stepped and latticed pyramidal building housing a 127-person assembly hall.
Kéré’s Benin National Assembly is under construction. Its design is inspired by palaver trees, which serve as gathering spaces in many African communities.
Kéré has been a visiting professor at the Harvard University Graduate School of Design and the Yale School of Architecture, and has held the inaugural Chair of Architectural Design and Participation professorship at the Technische Universität München (Technical University of Munich) since 2017. He is an Honorary Fellow of the Royal Architectural Institute of Canada and the American Institute of Architects, and a charter member of the Royal Institute of British Architects.
“Francis Kéré is pioneering architecture — sustainable to the earth and its inhabitants — in lands of extreme scarcity,” said Tom Pritzker, chairman of The Hyatt Foundation, which sponsors the award. “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. Through buildings that demonstrate beauty, modesty, boldness and invention, and by the integrity of his architecture … Kéré gracefully upholds the mission of this Prize.”
The Pritzker Prize is awarded every year to a living architect or architects for significant achievement in the field. It was established by the Pritzker family of Chicago through its Hyatt Foundation in 1979. The award consists of $100,000 (around £75,720) and a bronze medallion.
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