The name of this year’s winner of Pritzker Architecture Prize, the profession’s highest honour, has recently been announced. Diébédo Francis Kéré has created history, as the 57-year-old becomes the first African to win the prestigious award that has been given since 1979.
Kéré was born in the village of Gando in Burkina Faso. His creations can be considered as an achievement in the West African nation, which is facing acute (drinking) water and power crises. Kéré’s father was chief of the village. The villagers did not understand at that period of time why he encouraged his eldest son to study, instead of concentrating on farming.
As there was no school in Gando, Kéré had to leave his village. He, along with 100 other children, used to stay in a different village in order to attend school. The condition of that school was so pathetic, students had to suffer a lot in summer. At the age of seven, he found himself crammed into an extremely hot classroom with more than 100 other classmates. Kéré left for Berlin in 1995 after winning a scholarship to study in Germany. Although he had initially joined a technical education programme, Kéré earned a Graduate Degree in Architecture due to his talent and hard work. During his stay in the German capital, he managed to save USD 50,000. Later in 2001, he returned to Burkina Faso as an architect, and decided to build a school at Gando.
After receiving the Pritzker Architecture Prize, the 57-year-old architect told a media conference: “I grew up in a community where there was no kindergarten, but where the community was your family. 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.“
Kéré has recalled that he started raising funds for building the school upon his arrival in Gando. Later, he designed his own school-building. He has thanked the local people for contributing to the workforce and resources, stating: “Architecture is an instrument we can use to create better cities, to create space to inspire people, to create classrooms which inspire the best generation.” He used indigenous material, like clay and wood, to build the school, as his main aim was to use the sunlight inside the classroom as much as possible, without allowing the temperature of the classrooms to shoot up. That architecture helped him win many international awards two decades ago.
Kéré has left the impression of his unique style of architecture across the globe over the past 20 years, and he has used European technology with indigenous and readily available materials, everywhere. On the roof of the library of Gando Primary School, he ensured that traditional clay pots were used in the ceiling to circulate light and air. He has also designed and built a hospital, with windows of different heights, in Burkina Faso. The design allows physicians, visitors and patients to enjoy the beauty outside the hospital while standing, sitting and lying on the bed, respectively. According to Kéré, his main priority is to help human beings enjoy nature.
Delivering a speech after receiving the Pritzker Prize, the Burkina Faso-born architect said that his country has not changed much, with poor people still facing shortages of drinking water and electricity. Those, who have managed to leave the country, never return. As a result, the condition of the country remains the same. Commenting on his Gando Primary School project, Kéré stressed: “I did a modern building that is not westernised, and not a traditional African building. My aim was to create a building that responded the best to the needs of the climate and the need of the people, using the most available material.” He added: “We tried to improve the quality of clay, adding some cement to make it attractive, to make it innovative. We created a well ventilated structure, which is working without any artificial or mechanical climate control.“
From various African countries to Geneva, London and other major European cities, Kéré’s signature architectural creations have earned praise all over the world. Under his guidance, a team of around 200-300 builders, welders, carpenters, and bricklayers are working on various projects, undertaken by Kéré Architecture, on different sites in Burkina Faso. Once, Kéré said that one could find the root of his endevour in his society.
The Pritzker Committee has honoured his attempt to return to his roots.
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