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New Delhi: Francis Kéré (born Diébédo Francis Kéré) is the first Black person to receive architecture’s highest honour, the Pritzker Prize. Kéré, who was born in Burkina Faso and is now a dual citizen of Burkina Faso and Germany, was awarded the prize for 2022 last week.
The architect’s work is largely focused in areas facing adversity and constraints, and on using local materials and catering to local needs. He has designed a number of schools and medical facilities. As the Pritzker Prize jury puts it, “Francis Kéré’s work is, by its essence and its presence, fruit of its circumstances. In a world where architects are building projects in the most diverse contexts – not without controversies – Kéré contributes to the debate by incorporating local, national, regional and global dimensions in a very personal balance of grass roots experience, academic quality, low tech, high tech, and truly sophisticated multiculturalism.”
“He has developed a sensitive, bottom-up approach in its embrace of community participation. At the same time, he has no problem incorporating the best possible type of top-down process in his devotion to advanced architectural solutions. His simultaneously local and global perspective goes well beyond aesthetics and good intentions, allowing him to integrate the traditional with the contemporary,” the jury citation continues.
The jury believes Kéré’s work to be “game-changing” in how we approach the buildings we create and use:
“What is the role of architecture in contexts of extreme scarcity? What is the right approach to the practice when working against all odds? Should it be modest and risk succumbing to adverse circumstances? Or is modesty the only way to be pertinent and achieve results? Should it be ambitious in order to inspire change? Or does ambition run the risk of being out of place and of resulting in architecture of mere wishful thinking?
Francis Kéré has found brilliant, inspiring and game-changing ways to answer these questions over the last decades. 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. He knows, from within, that architecture is not about the object but the objective; not the product, but the process.”
The circumstances he grew up in, and observing the spaces around him, have contributed to Kéré’s architectural sensibilities. “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. 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,” he has said.
“I am hoping to change the paradigm, push people to dream and undergo risk. It is 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,” he continued. “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.”
One of Kéré most ambitious projects is the National Assembly of Burkina Faso (Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso), yet to be built. “After the Burkinabè uprising in 2014 destroyed the former structure, the architect designed a stepped and lattice pyramidal building, housing a 127-person assembly hall on the interior, while encouraging informal congregation on the exterior. Enabling new views, physically and metaphorically, this is one piece to a greater master plan, envisioned to include indigenous flora, exhibition spaces, courtyards, and a monument to those who lost their lives in protest of the old regime,” the Pritzker website states.
Many of Kéré’s built works are located in Africa, in countries including the Republic of Benin, Burkino Faso, Mali, Togo, Kenya, Mozambique, Togo, and Sudan. Pavilions and installations and have been created in Denmark, Germany, Italy, Switzerland, the United Kingdom and the United States. Significant works also include Xylem at Tippet Rise Art Centre (2019, Montana, United States), Léo Doctors’ Housing (2019, Léo, Burkina Faso), Lycée Schorge Secondary School (2016, Koudougou, Burkina Faso), the National Park of Mali (2010, Bamako, Mali) and Opera Village (Phase I, 2010, Laongo, Burkina Faso).
The international prize was created by the late Jay A. Pritzker and his wife, Cindy, in 1979 through their Hyatt Foundation to honour the world’s most innovative architects and is awarded each year to a living architect. The award consists of $100,000 and a bronze medallion and is conferred on the laureate at a ceremony held at an architecturally significant site. In 2018, Balkrishna Doshi became the first Indian to win the Pritzker Architecture Prize.
The photos below highlight some Kéré work.