Today, the role of architecture is not just confined to making structures using futuristic technologies and innovations; its role expands towards creating spaces for communities and societies using all these technologies. With the evolving times, it becomes very essential for a space to serve and mold itself according to a community’s social and cultural needs.
Diébédo Francis Kéré, founder of the Berlin-based firm Kéré Architecture is looked upon as one of the most influential architects serving the notion of how architecture is about people and belongs to the people. Kéré was born in a small African village named Gando in Burkina Faso, home to about 2500 inhabitants. After receiving a scholarship, he pursued a degree in architecture and engineering in Germany. Soon, he started introducing structural amenities to his village, by first introducing Gando primary school, Gando Teachers Accommodation, and a library open to the public. Kéré received multiple awards for his contribution towards ‘architecture for humans’; including the prestigious Aga Khan Award for Architecture, Global Holcim Award, the BSI Swiss Architectural Award, and the Schelling Architecture Award.
“They are free to use the space, the way they behave, like they feel. Architecture is about people.”— Francis Kéré on the Louisiana Channel
Kéré’s works showcase the usage of traditional methodologies of construction and efficient utilization of long-established building materials while fostering community participation. He was confirmed as the keynote speaker at the 27th World Congress of Architects. His works are spread across four continents and in numerous countries like Mali, Yemen, China, and the United States of America.
Here are a few selected works by Kéré and his team that impart the notion of participatory designs and usage of local resources.
1. Gando Primary School, Gando, Burkina Faso (2001)
Gando Primary school was one of the first projects executed by Kéré along with the Kéré Foundation and Community of Gando to tackle the complications that arose due to the lack of educational amenities in the eastern part of Burkina Faso. It also addressed two other obstacles faced by most structures in the area: poor lighting and ventilation.
Kéré dodged these obstacles easily by proposing a design within the limitations put forward by cost, resource availability, construction feasibility, and climate. The dominant material utilized for this project was hybrid of clay and cement; clay, since its abundant presence in the region, as well as it depicted the traditionalistic character of the local houses. These were easy to produce and provided thermal protection against the extreme climatic conditions of the region. To protect the walls from rains, an overhanging roof was opted for and installed.
Traditional construction techniques and modern engineering methods were combined to produce a marvel to suit the current needs of people and also to meet the future requirements due to growth. Locals too contributed to the project, which helped them understand the structure and the spaces in a better and an efficient manner.
The project was completed in 2001 and measured 520 square meters. It later won the prestigious Aga Khan Award for architecture in 2004 and Global Award for Sustainable Architecture in 2009.
2. Gando Teacher’s Housing, Gando, Burkina Faso (2004)
Shortly after the construction of the Gando Primary school, there arose the challenge of housing qualified teachers that joined the staff of the school in Gando. This challenge led to the construction of Gando Teacher’s Housing, which not only housed teachers but also their families.
The aim was to provide quality housing, which acted as an incentive to draw skilled individuals from cities and urban locations to more remote and rural areas of the country. Houses were designed as modules that responded to the surrounding vernacular and traditional typologies. These were expandable modules that were built to satisfy the needs of the users.
Six such modules are arranged in a wide arc to the south of the school complex. This represented and gelled well with the traditional Burkinabè compound. The project promotes the usage of sustainable building materials like adobe and corrugated iron roof covering and traditional construction methodologies in innovative ways. The focal aim was to engage the community in building structures for the community.
The simplicity of the design and usage of locally available materials makes the module more adaptable by the users who plan on customizing or extending their homes.
3. Xylem Pavilion, Fishtail, United States Of America (2019)
Xylem is a gathering pavilion designed and constructed in 2019 by Kéré Architecture. It represents a straightforward form of biomimicry in architecture; since it represents internal layers of a tree’s living structure, Xylem, a vascular tissue responsible for transporting water and physically supporting the structure of the tree.
The entire pavilion is carved out of wooden logs, connecting the users and visitors to the ‘heart’ of the trees, as the architect likes to put it. These wooden logs derive from pinewood, which was locally sourced from a natural pruning process that saves forests from parasitic bugs. It was used in its raw state. The logs are then grouped in circular bundles within a modular hexagonal structure enclosed in weathering steel. The entire structure is supported on seven steel columns.
Though the entire structure of the roof looks enormous, it is lightweight and blends well with the surrounding landscape and hills. The vivid spatial complexity caused due to the carved wooden logs and bundles encourages visitors to explore different views of the surrounding landscape.
4. Serpentine Pavilion, Kensington Gardens, London (2017)
In 2017, Serpentine Galleries commissioned Kéré Architecture to design a Serpentine Pavilion in Kensington Gardens, London. Kéré’s raison d’être here was to create a sense of community, while connecting people with nature, a concept that roots from his hometown of Gando; where people gathered under a tree to reflect on their days. The signature elements that compose the pavilion are the huge steel roof covered with transparent skin and the prefabricated wall system.
The roof skeleton is constructed out of steel and skinned with a transparent sheet, which allows sunlight to enter the interiors while protecting the pavilion from rains. Wooden shading elements are lined underside the roof, creating a dynamic shadow effect, which constantly changes due to the movement of the sun and the clouds.
The wall system is composed of prefabricated triangular wooden blocks with slight apertures, which allow the structure to appear light and also provides transparency to the pavilion enclosure. There are four unique accessibility points to the pavilion, which also allows a good amount of ventilation throughout the pavilion. In the evening, the pavilion becomes a source of illumination.
5. Courtyard Village, Milan, Italy (2016)
Courtyard Village was a temporary installation designed and assembled by Kéré Architecture in Palazzo Litta for an exhibition, entitled ‘A Matter of Perception: Tradition and Technology. It explored the individual concepts and interrelationship between tradition and technology.
The initial concept derived from the social and spatial dynamics of traditional compounds in West African countries. It was set on a communal ground, a courtyard surrounded by a baroque-style building and ground covered with native Italian grasses. On the platform stood three open circular shelters made from stone which conveyed the idea of transparency and mass at the same time.
A total of six different types of stones were used, matching the craftsmanship and materiality of both the baroque building and the surrounding cityscape. Overhead a singular overhanging roof of bamboo protected and shaded the compound’s community below.
The first furniture piece designed by the architect, ZIBA stool was also showcased at the exhibition, which invited the visitors to stay and explore the installation. The concept of the seating is also derived from the interrelationship between technology and traditionally handcrafted furniture pieces.
6. Benin National Assembly, Republic Of Benin, West Africa (Concept)
The Republic of Benin has commissioned Kéré Architecture to propose a design for the current building that dates back to the colonial era. The proposal is still under the concept and design stage and was first proposed in 2019. The new National Assembly will embody the values of democracy and the cultural identity of its citizens.
This project was also inspired by the concept of Palaver Tree, an ancient West African tradition of gathering under a tree to make consensual decisions in the interest of the community. The assembly hall sits on the ground floor and the added auxiliary functions take up space on the top. The trunk is hollow, creating a spacious courtyard that allows transition spaces to be well-ventilated and well-lit.
7. Lycée Schorge Secondary School (2016)
Lycée Schorge Secondary School was yet again one of the most innovative and iconic designs planned and constructed by Kéré Architecture in Burkina Faso. Its construction started in 2014 and ended in 2016. The mélange of traditional architecture and culture with technology is evident throughout the structure, making its space comfortable and malleable to people’s needs and requirements.
The entire campus is composed of nine modules, radially arranged around a huge central courtyard. These modules protect the courtyard from dust and strong winds. An amphitheater is provided to meet the informal as well as formal needs of the users like celebrations, gatherings, festivals, etc.
The walls of each module are constructed from locally available laterite stone; it just doesn’t escalate the aesthetic value but also acts as a thermal mass, absorbing the heavy daytime heat and radiating it at night. A secondary façade constructed from wood obtained from eucalyptus trees wraps around the classrooms and creates a variety of shaded moldable transition spaces. In order to save on costs, the school’s furniture was constructed from locally available materials like hardwood and steel.
8. Sarbalé Ke Pavilion, Coachella Valley Music And Art Festival, Indio, California (2019)
Sarbalé Ke translates to “House of Celebration” in the Mòoré language, originating from Burkina Faso. It was inspired by a baobab tree, a community landmark in Western Africa for its medicinal and nutritional uses. The installation features a total of 12 baobab towers that reflects the material, texture, and spatial layout of the architecture in Burkina Faso. Visitors have the freedom to flow through the hollow trunks from all directions. The material and the skeleton of the installation respond directly to Indio’s spring climate, allowing light filtration on the interiors and natural ventilation in all directions.
During the evening, these towers illuminate from within, acting as a subtle light source that brightens the festival even in the evening. Steel was the primary structural material and the rest of the materials were sourced based on local availability. The various colors used represent the color of the sunrises and sunsets observed in Indio, it also goes with the hues of the surrounding mountain range.
9. National Park Of Mali, Bamako, Mali (2010)
The new National Park in Mali by Kéré Architecture was to mark the country’s 50th Independence Anniversary in 2010. Kéré Architecture was invited to design numerous built interventions throughout the park, like the entrances, public toilets, restaurant, kiosks, and a youth and sports center. All these structures are externally clad with stone obtained locally. It not only increases the aesthetic value but also adds a thermal mass, maintaining a balance in the interior climate of the building.
Large overhanging roofs provide an ample amount of shaded spaces around the structures. The buildings are designed to rely entirely on their passive cooling systems, although certain buildings offer the option of sealing their roof vents to operate with air-conditioning.
10. Centre For Earth Architecture, Congo (2010)
The Center of Earth Architecture was a cultural center, a project initiated by Aga Khan Trust for Culture (AKTC), designed and constructed by Kéré Architecture in Mopti, Mali, completed in 2010. The main focus of the project was to house different exhibitions and educational facilities that promoted the region’s traditional earth architecture, and itself was designed in a way that portrayed various traditional clay techniques of construction.
The design responds to the needs and requirements of the Mopti, its people, and its visitors, and thus it is divided into three different buildings which are united under two roofs. The principal material used here is exposed compressed stabilized earth blocks (BTC), which are held together with clay mortar, these respond to the regional climate very well.
The large overhanging roof provides adequate shaded spaces around the periphery of the buildings that act as a buffer between exterior and interior spaces. The buildings are naturally ventilated through openings and vaults, helping in cutting down the costs.
11. Exilmuseum (Concept)
Exilmuseum is a proposal for a museum that commemorates people who fled to Berlin as political refugees during the Third Reich. Kéré chose the site, Anhalter Bahnhof, a former railway terminus. The entrance to the former terminus is of crucial historical importance to the city of Berlin, as it was the gate through which the majority Nazi opponents were deported.
The site has been under debate since Second World War, during which the gate was destructed. Representation of a deep fissure that divides the building into two parts depicts the detrimental effects on the society and its culture caused due to exile. The structure is encased in an elaborate pattern of increasingly thinner components by a polychromatic stone façade. Openings strategically placed in the design break up the pattern, enabling natural light to enter the interior gallery areas as needed.
Louisiana Channel (2015), Diébédo Francis Kéré: Architecture is about people [Vimeo Video], Available at: https://vimeo.com/137228631 [Accessed: 8th June 2021]
TED (2013), Diébédo Francis Kéré: How to build with clay…and community [YouTube Video], Available at: https://youtu.be/MD23gIlr52Y [Accessed: 8th June 2021]
UIA2021RIO (2020), UIA2021RIO – PARTE 2- Diébédo Francis Kéré [YouTube Video], Available at: https://youtu.be/vn0zSwEKFSQ [Accessed: 9th June 2021]
Philip Stevens, Build to inspire: Francis Kéré explains his architectural approach at Milano Arch Week, Available at: https://www.designboom.com/architecture/francis-kere-interview-milano-arch-week-06-16-2017/ [Accessed: 8th June 2021]
Kéré Architecture, Available at: https://www.kerearchitecture.com/ [Accessed: 10th June 2021]
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Francis Kéré, Vitra+Camper store at Vitra Campus/ Kéré Architecture, Available at: https://www.archdaily.com/769302/vitra-plus-camper-store-at-vitra-campus-kere-architecture [Accessed: 11th June 2021]
Francis Kéré, National Park of Mali/ Kéré Architecture, Available at: https://www.archdaily.com/167020/national-park-of-mali-kere-architecture [Accessed: 11th June 2021]
Caroline James, Francis Kéré in Mali, Available at: https://www.domusweb.it/en/architecture/2011/08/15/francis-kere-in-mali.html [Accessed: 11th June 2021]