The Hyatt Foundation awarded the 2022 Pritzker Prize to the architect Diébédo Francis Kéré, becoming the first African to receive this award.
The Pritzker Prize is the highest decoration in architecture and is awarded to a living architect whose architectural work “has made significant contributions to humanity through the creation and design of space.” The prize is awarded annually and consists of a sum of 100 thousand dollars.
When a fire reaches a forest, all the animals flee to seek a safe refuge for themselves and their families, except for the hummingbird, who goes to the river to collect water to throw on the fire. All the animals ask him why he does it if he won’t be able to suffocate it. The hummingbird tells them that he knows that he will not be able to suffocate him, but he will contribute a small part of himself to save and take care of his home. Kéré is like the hummingbird in this story by Betinho, he dilates his space to extend his hand to the community that saw him grow up.
What does the work of the Burkinabe architect Kéré transmit to us? Kéré was the first child in his community to learn to read. He had to leave the town where he was born to go to the nearest school, which lacked natural light and ventilation, located 40 kilometers away. He subsequently emigrated to Germany where he studied architecture.
At the end of his career, he focused on making sustainable constructions with a great social burden, his first contributions were to the community of his origin: Gando. Gando Elementary School awarded him the Aga Khan Award in 2004, because for Francis Kéré education should be the cornerstone for the economic, cultural, and social development of a community.
Its composition consists of three rectangular bodies joined by a roof. Each body is a classroom to accommodate 50 students. Its materials are regionally manufactured in situ by the neighbors. Its walls are clay bricks and the roof is a hybrid between clay, zinc, and a steel truss.
Since he was a student, Kéré knew that he had to give back part of what his community gave him. Even in the classrooms, he was clear that he should provide a decent space for school education because educational centers are the most important thing a community can have.
“Since he was a student he wanted to provide opportunities for the children of Gando. I just wanted to use my skills and build a school. How do you do it when you are still just a student and have no money? I started making designs and raising money. It was not an easy task. I even told my classmates to spend less money on coffee and cigarettes to sponsor my school project. Fortunately, two years later, I was able to collect 50 thousand dollars. ” He explained in a TED talk.
His main works are always governed by the search to promote the community through space, art, and culture. In his Mali National Park project, Kéré sought sustainable construction with raw materials from the region, which results in natural and sustainable air conditioning in the spaces and low construction costs.
The stone on the walls provides thermal insulation to the interior, while the overhangs provide shade to the exterior and interior spaces. The sports center is integrated into harmony with the natural context creating a language in balance with the environment.
The Gando Library is an elliptical space covered by a concrete roof that is interspersed with clay pots made by women from the region. These vessels allow the passage of light while providing the space with natural ventilation, creating a pattern with lighting that directly impacts the sensory experience of the reader. The result is a space that resembles the vernacular constructions of the region.
Other important works by Kéré are the Opera Village in Laongo (Burkina Faso), the Surgical Center and the health center, the Lycée Schorge Secondary School in Kedougou, the Serpentine Gallery Pavilion in London, and the National Assembly of Burkina Faso.
Kéré’s architecture is a poetics of space. The atmosphere inside changes concerning the time of day, because the rays of light that touch the walls are like the fingers of God caressing the interior space. Light in conjunction with ventilation and materials is the perfect synthesis of architecture in harmony with the environment.
His architectural language focuses on the social and cultural growth of the community that saw him grow and is a clear example that it is not necessary to transfer the cosmopolitan design to a city to make an elite project. Taking advantage of materials from the region, adding culture and art through space is the best gift that an architect can give to his community. The ceremony will take place at the Marshall Building in London.