Burkina Faso-born architect Diebedo Francis Kere was awarded the Pritzker Prize, architecture’s most prestigious award (sometimes called the Nobel Prize of Architecture). He is the first African and the first Black person to win the honor in its more than 40-year history.
Born in a remote village in Burkina Faso without running water or electricity, he began his career by building a mud-brick school for his community, before being selected to design the country’s national parliament less than 15 years later.
“I grew up in a community where there was no kindergarten, but where the community was your family,” he told the Pritzker Prize.
“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,” he continued.
At the age of seven, Mr.Kéré found himself crammed into an extremely hot classroom with more than 100 other students. As the first child in his community to have attended school, this experience of poor building facilities was his earliest inspiration to improve the educational lives of Burkina Faso’s children, using architecture.
Years later and after studying in Germany, the dream became a reality, with Mr.Kéré designing a primary school in his home village of Gando as his first building in 2001.
The Gando School project taught the local people how to refine the clay and local materials, and how different construction techniques could further improve the performance of these materials. It saw him revising and modernizing traditional techniques, using local clay because it is abundant and crucially, involving the entire community. Children gathered stones for the foundations. Women brought water to make bricks. “The more local materials you use,” he has said, “the better you can promote the local economy and build local knowledge, which also makes people proud.”
Opened in 2001, the school now counts more than 300 students. Impressed by the building, the local government readily agreed to fund teachers’ salaries. The construction of teachers’ accommodations, of a standard to match the school building, is underway. The school not only provides education for the village children, but is used to pass on new skills and knowledge to the entire community. Moreover, the project is having a significant multiplier effect. Already two neighboring villages have followed the same model of community mobilization to build themselves schools. And the government is employing the Gando villagers with their new construction skills to work on other public projects.
Mr. Kéré remains driven by his desire to reinvest in his country:
“Africa is full of very bright and capable young people. But only through access to education will they be able to build themselves a better world. For me, Gando School is a success because the villagers no longer see it as a waste of time for their children to be in school instead of working in the fields. They look at what young Francis was able to do because of his education, and they are now able to believe that their own children can also achieve.”
I don’t know what will be the reaction in Africa, but something is sure: we have a lot of young people looking for opportunities, and seeing one of them — that are still… I am young — winning the Pritzker price may be a big opening and a big inspiration to become an architect”, added the Pritzker Prize winner.
Beyond his designs in Burkina Faso, the award-winning architect has also designed permanent and temporary structures across Europe and the United States, such as London’s 2017 Serpentine Pavilion.
“I’m always thinking: How can I get the best for my clients, for those who can afford but also for those who can not afford?
“This is my way of doing things, of using my architecture to create structures to serve people, let’s say to serve humanity,” Kéré added.
Congratulations and thank you for the contributions you have created through your work and that go beyond the realm of architecture discipline Mr.Kéré!