Pritzker Prize goes to architects from West Africa
Growing up in a poor village in Burkina Faso, Francis Kéré didn’t play football with the other boys. He helped repair houses.
After winning a scholarship at a vocational school for carpentry in Germany and entering the architecture school at the Technical University of Berlin, Kéré was in no hurry to enter a prestigious company. As an architecture student, he had raised the money to build an elementary school in his hometown of Gando, with help from local residents who drew plans in the sand.
And even after gaining international recognition at exhibitions such as the Serpentine Pavilion in London and the Venice Biennale, Kéré has always turned his attention back to his homeland.
It’s this dedication to uplifting the community from which he came that helped Kéré, 56, earn the Pritzker Prize, architecture’s highest honor, announced Tuesday.
“His buildings for and with communities are directly from those communities – in their manufacture, their materials, their programs and their unique character,” said the jury in its statement. “They are tied to the ground they sit on and the people who sit on it. They have presence without pretense and graceful impact.”
Kéré said in a phone interview that he was moved by the Pritzker recognition — he said he cried — and that he was surprised to have caught the jury’s attention.
“I still don’t believe it,” he said. “I advanced this work in architecture to bring quality architecture to my people.”
This work has taken the form of schools, libraries, health centers and public spaces – often in underserved areas where Kéré makes the best of limited resources and draws on West African traditions. His projects focus on Africa, including Benin, Burkina Faso, Mali, Togo, Kenya, Mozambique and Sudan.
Lacking air conditioning for his primary school in Gando (2001), Kéré used cement-reinforced bricks and a raised, overhanging roof to counter the conditions of extreme heat and poor lighting.
This project increased the school’s student body from 120 to 700 and resulted in Kéré’s design for teachers’ housing (2004), an annex (2008) and a library (2019). Last year, T Magazine named the elementary school one of the 25 most important buildings built after World War II.
Similarly, Kéré used the cooling effects of rubble and stacked towers to minimize the air conditioning needs of the Startup Lions campus in Turkana, Kenya, an information and communications technology complex that was completed in 2021.
“Francis Kéré is pioneering architecture – sustainable for the earth and its people – in countries of extreme scarcity,” said Tom Pritzker, chairman of the Hyatt Foundation, which sponsors the award, in a statement. “He is both architect and servant, enhancing the lives and experiences of countless citizens in a sometimes forgotten region of the world.”
When it comes to materials, Kéré works with what is available, be it wood, brick or clay. “I will push for simplicity and modularity,” he said. “I try to be as efficient as possible, to build small things that are easy to put together and create something whole.”
“I love wood – it’s calming,” he added. “All this stuff grounds you.”
Growing up in Burkina Faso, where his parents were farmers, Kéré said the hot classrooms made him learn carpentry and one day be able to build better buildings.
While studying in Germany, Kéré delivered newspapers at night to send money home.
“I used my time to travel around Berlin to see how buildings were constructed in the pre-industrial era,” said Kéré, “because that’s the technology that would help my people.”
In 1998, while still a student, Kéré founded the Kéré Foundation, a non-profit organization that serves the residents of Gando through project development, partnerships, and fundraising.
In 2005 he founded Kéré Architecture in Berlin. His practice, which has grown to 21 employees, is currently in Munich. Notable works also include his Xylem Pavilion at the Tippet Rise Art Center in Montana (2019); the National Park of Mali (2010); and in Burkina Faso the Léo Doctors’ Housing (2019) and the Opera Village (Phase I, 2010).
“He works in marginalized countries, beset by constraints and adversity, where architecture and infrastructure are lacking,” Pritzker said in his press materials. “The expression of his works exceeds the value of a building itself.”
Kéré said he approaches each project from the perspective of his clients, trying to understand their goals and needs. “I start to say, ‘Okay, what do I have to give? Why is this person coming to me?’” Kéré said. “I take the time to listen. I listen to really see what made this person come to me when the world is full of architects.”
Working in West Africa can present significant challenges. The National Assembly of Burkina Faso, for which Kéré designed a pyramid-shaped building with exhibition rooms and courtyards, has stalled due to political uncertainty.
Working in impoverished areas requires skills beyond design, Kéré said, namely patience. “You have power shortages, you have the internet that’s constantly broken — you have to be passionate and believe in the project,” he said. “I make sure I don’t get frustrated when I imagine doing architecture in a different way that isn’t very fast.”
Kéré’s projects are not just functional; They can also have a quirkiness and composure. For the 2019 Coachella California music festival, he wrapped 12 towers in colorful triangular screens.
For his Benga Riverside School in Mozambique (2018), he designed the walls with small recurring voids “to allow light and transparency, to evoke feelings of trust in the students,” according to the award.
The walls of his Center for Health and Social Welfare (2014) feature a pattern of framed windows of varying heights, offering scenic vistas of the landscape “for everyone,” according to the Pritzker jury, “from the standing physician to the seated visitor.” a lying patient.
Kéré’s strong affinity with his homeland influences his practice – he refers to local symbols such as the baobab tree or the palaver tree; a traditional blue boubou garment he wore as a child.
He wants the community not only to participate in the creation of architecture, Kéré said, but to connect with it and feel transported.
“You get more than one building,” added Kéré. “You let yourself be inspired.”
https://www.nytimes.com/2022/03/15/arts/design/pritzker-prize-francis-kere.html Pritzker Prize goes to architects from West Africa