About Architect Francis Kéré
Being first African recipient of the prestigious Prixter Architecture Prize in 2022, Diébédo Francis Kéré is a Burkinabé-German architect renowned for his innovatory and sustainable projects. Alumnus of the Technical University of Berlin established ‘Schulbausteine für Gando’ now known as ‘Kéré Foundation’, headquartered in Berlin to give back to his native community of Gando through projects providing educational facilities and address issues pertaining to environment & sanitation. Besides that, Kéré Foundation’ has laid out platforms for collaborations on a regional & worldwide level and exploring unique methods of implementing materials and local construction techniques in Gando.
Post-graduation, Francis Kéré established his architectural practice ‘Kéré Architecture’ in 2005, which further went on to be conferred Aga Khan Award for Architecture for his first project Gando Primary School, Global Holcim Award for Sustainable Construction, etc.
Alongside completing projects in Burkina Faso, Kenya, Mali, Mozambique, Sudan, Togo, Uganda, Germany, Italy, Switzerland, the United States of America & the United Kingdom, he has taken professorships in reputed universities across the World, viz Harvard Graduate School of Design, Yale School of Architecture, the Swiss Accademia di Architettura di Mendrisio and the Technical University of Munich.
Reasoning behind Architect Francis Kéré’s statement: “African architecture should stop copying the West.”
Africa is incredibly diverse, home to an array of rich and abundant history and traditional & cultural practices varying from region to region. Architecture, a platform for the use of citizens, should also be a reflection of the traditional identity of that area. The diversified nature of Africa is illustrated in quite a number of examples of African Architecture from the prehistoric era to date through the usage and implementation of materials like wood, thatch, mud, mud brick, stoned, and sustainable building techniques such as rammed earth. Traditional African Architecture relies on the concept of ‘Fractal Scaling’ wherein the smaller components of a structure replicate style and design of larger-scale components. For example, a group of circular houses forming a circular village, etc.
Francis Kéré strongly believes in the fact that African architecture should end in imitating western styles of architecture. He substantiates his statement while providing a critical analysis of the same, considering Africa’s urban fabric, socio-economic aspects, climatic conditions and preservation of traditional building methods and materials.
With rapid urbanization transforming African cities with youth continuously flocking towards them in search of better professional opportunities and improvised lifestyles, the availability of Africa’s urban housing took a consequential hit. Today, many citizens struggle to find affordable home catering to the minimum requirements of their respective lifestyles. Crisis in housing availability directly affects overall public health, safety & security. It is extremely challenging to control the spread of contagious diseases within informal settlements having dense populations with restricted access to clean water, sanitation facilities, and emergency healthcare services.
Coupled with the looming housing unavailability & healthcare service shortage are issues in the local economy, despite the abundance of natural resources. Francis Kéré believes that emulating western styles would never be workable in years to come within Africa’s urban socio-economic fabric. Modern architecture utilizing concrete heavily relies upon air-conditioning for cooling & ventilation. The grim reality is that most & various parts of Africa have a severe shortage of power to meet demands of said air conditioning, ventilation, lighting, etc.
Vernacularism- A prevalent yet overlooked concept
The concept of vernacularism, existing since the prehistoric ages, is a fool-proof solution to tackle housing issues. Vernacular architecture involves utilising locally available materials, methods, and structural systems used in the local context for generations. It caters to the needs of localities and can speed up opportunities for local designers, workmen, and material suppliers to construct infrastructure for their community.
The above picture depicts an example of preserving vernacularism in African architecture. These houses in the African village of Tiébélé housing Kassenas, one of the oldest ethnic groups in Burkina Faso’s native country of Ar. Francis Kéré. The residents of this village have distinctive lifestyles and traditions practised for centuries. The houses have been constructed by residing Kassenas using clay, a locally abundant versatile material ideal for tropical climatic conditions with numerous geometric symbols and patterns of cultural significance hand painted using clay paints.
In recent years, Africa viewed a rise in the construction of high-rise, glazed commercial infrastructure, especially all over East Africa (Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, etc.), leading to a serious drain of meagerly available energy. Concurring with Ar. Francis Kéré’s statement, eminent architectural academic Ar. Musau Limeu of the Department of Architecture and Building Science stated that it’s time for African developers & architects to end imitating Western Architecture and utilise local materials & construction technologies well-suited for Africa’s hot climate. Buildings with glazed facades & other Western architectural styles, when erected in tropical Africa, heavily depend on artificial lighting, cooling and ventilation, leading to a drastic rise in energy consumption, bills, ecologically unfriendly air pollution, and greenhouse gases emission.
Francis Kéré firmly believes that Africa’s built environment must be adaptable to its nature while preserving local cultural identity. He introduced traditional construction methods and their merits to Western African communities, providing them with a framework for completing tasks. Implementing locally available materials like clay, mud, thatch, etc. allows for seamless natural ventilation, which is essential to living in Africa’s hot tropical climate. This practice encouraged local citizens to build ‘Houses that breathe’ in Kéré’s words. These houses are built using locally available materials that are affordable, accessible, and well-adaptable to the local environment. This community development practice will enable countries within Africa to strongly establish their cultural identity, pride, technical skillets, and knowledge.
To sum it up, regardless of context, local design solutions are key in tackling issues about urbanisation, infrastructure availability & accessibility, and socio-economic factors, as Ar. Francis Kéré rightfully stated western interventions are never workable when implemented everywhere else since they could never completely cater to residents’ needs and the community’s overall development. The adaptation of such techniques & mechanised methods of construction alienates native artisans and artisans and also impacts the local economy with the nonuse of local materials. Resources must be spent encouraging the usage of locally available techniques to develop public infrastructure, which will consequently take care of climatic requirements. Money well spent considering the local context and not blindly incorporating western modules will truly make a difference to all the residing citizens.
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