Francis Kéré, first African architect to receive the Pritzker Prize


It is the most prestigious award in the world of architecture. Established in Chicago in 1979 by the Pritzker family, the Pritzker Prize has just announced its new winner: Francis Diébédo Kéré. Born in Burkinabe and adoptive German, the 56-year-old owes his notoriety to his ambitious projects in his country of birth, but also in Mali, Kenya, Benin and the United States, each time consuming material and human resources while providing access to educational, medical or political structures in cities and regions where they are absent. On this occasion he becomes the first African architect to win the prize.

When Francis Diébédo Kéré was born in Gando, Burkina Faso, in 1965, In his village there was no electricity, no running water, no school and no health care system. An extremely precarious situation that quickly inspires the young man to seek revenge: forced to leave his family at the age of seven to study 30 kilometers from his homeland, the Burkinabe vows to do everything possible to provide for his region with the missing infrastructure. promise kept. In 1998, at the end of his studies, the trained carpenter, at that time a qualified architect at the Technical University of Berlin, founded an association for the needs of his village. After building a primary school there, his first successful project, the German-by-choice expanded his field of activity to the rest of the country by building a high school here, a health center there, then a campus in Kenya or, more recently, the National Assembly of Benin, a project still in progress … Desiring to mobilize local materials and human resources, the architect encourages a short-circuit that calls on local artisans, great connoisseurs of their surroundings, while offering them far-reaching opportunities will them on the strengthen the labor market. An approach that convinced the jury of the Pritzker Prize: After the French couple Anne Lacaton and Jean-Philippe Vassal in 2021, the latter awarded Francis Kéré 100,000 dollars and a bronze medal this year. The opportunity to test his approach in three significant projects.

Francis Kere, Gando Elementary School.  Photo courtesy of Erik-Jan Owerkerk

Francis Kere, Gando Elementary School. Photo courtesy of Erik-Jan Owerkerk

1. Elementary school, Gando (2001): a field project for better education

In 1998, Francis Kéré founded the Kéré Foundation eV in Berlin. with the ambition to “give back to the community of Gando what it gave it” by improving the living conditions of the residents of the Burkinabe village through very concrete actions. Gando Elementary School will be the first major project. Constructed in 2001, the full-length, single-level building made of bricks of local cement and earth testifies to the young architect’s commitment: to mobilize natural resources and local artisans, using as few artificial devices as possible. possible (lighting, air conditioning, etc.). Shaped by his experience of working in stuffy and poorly ventilated classrooms, the artist manages to bring air and natural light into the building through the fine interstices of colored blinds, while allowing warm air to escape through the perforations of the tin roof that protects the porous brick walls before rain. So as not to keep heat inside the building, the metal roof is cleverly raised and sloped to block the sun’s rays. Since its inception, Gando Primary School has undergone significant development, expanding with a new building for classrooms, a library and accommodation for its teachers. It now houses 700 students.

Francis Kéré, Xylem.  Photo courtesy of Iwan Baan
Francis Kéré, Xylem.  Photo courtesy of Iwan Baan

Francis Kéré, Xylem. Photo courtesy of Iwan Baan

2. Xylem, Montana (2019): a cozy pine gazebo

In 2017, Francis Kéré designed the prestigious Serpentine Gallery Pavilion, ephemeral structure in the middle of Hyde Park commissioned every year by an architectural firm. Light and airy, her creation features the stunning use of wood, which is cut, painted blue and stacked to draw raised triangles whose abstract pattern is reminiscent of African fabrics. After all, wood is one of the architect’s favorite materials. Two years later, in a forest not far from the Beartooth Mountains in Montana, Francis Kéré built a new pavilion in the open-air art center Tippet Rise Art Center among aspens and poplars. The circular architecture consists of hundreds of American-region pine logs agglomerated in steel cells. Under the roof, these bundles seem to fall from the ceiling like stalactites, while on the floor they form warm furniture that invites you to sit down. The completely open structure is inspired by the toguna, those agora-like spaces of Mali’s Dogon villages where residents meet to talk about community life.

Francis Kéré, National Assembly of Burkina Faso, reproduced with permission from Kéré Architecture.
Francis Kéré, National Assembly of Burkina Faso, reproduced with permission from Kéré Architecture.

Francis Kéré, National Assembly of Burkina Faso, reproduced with permission from Kéré Architecture.

3. National Assembly of Burkina Faso, Ouagadouou (ongoing, since 2015): a bourgeois utopia

Ouagadougou, October 30, 2014: Hundreds of Burkinabé citizens, hostile to their president, Blaise Compaoré, who wants to run for a new mandate, are showing their anger by setting fire to the National Assembly. Invited in 2015 to erect a building on the ruins of the building that had just been destroyed, Francis Kéré draws inspiration from this pivotal moment in Burkina Faso’s political history to envision a stepped pyramidal structure that offers breathtaking views of the capital. Thanks to this architecture, the building can accommodate a restaurant area, local flower beds and even a large tree crossing an open roof on its exterior floors. Inside, there will be a tiered room to bring together the 127 members of the National Assembly, while a passageway room will allow the public to traverse the building. Exhibition spaces and a memorial honoring the civilians who died in the demonstrations are also planned in this project, which began seven years ago and whose progress has now been interrupted by the political situation in the country. Expecting that we will again consider the strength of an ambitious approach aimed at opening the dialogue between citizens and politicians.

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