Pritzker Prize awarded to Burkina Faso German architect


The Pritzker Architecture Prize has been awarded to Diébédo Francis Kéré, a Berlin-based architect, educator and social activist, for a craft that is “sustainable to the earth and its inhabitants in lands of extreme scarcity,” especially in Africa and his native Burkina Faso, organizers said Tuesday.

Diébédo Francis Kéré. Image By Astrid Eckert via Wikimedia Commons

“He is equally architect and servant, improving upon the lives and experiences of countless citizens in a region of the world that is at times forgotten,” said Tom Pritzker in announcing this year’s prize, seen as the highest honor in the field, to Kere, a citizen of both Burkina Faso and Germany. Pritzker is chairman of the Hyatt Foundation, which sponsors the award.

In comments to The Associated Press, Kéré, 56, said he had always “wanted to create spaces that give people a sense of comfort and can inspire them.

“At a time when the pandemic has made our codependency very clear and we are also facing increasing conflicts around diminishing resources, it humbles me that my approach is spotlighted with such an honor,” he said. “It gives me great hope to firsthand experience that no matter how seemingly small and remote your start, you can go beyond what you ever thought possible.”

Most of Kéré’s built works are in Africa, in countries including Benin, Burkino Faso, Mali, Kenya, Mozambique, Togo and Sudan. He has also designed pavilions or installations in Denmark, Germany, Italy, Switzerland, the United Kingdom and the United States, organizers said.

“Over and over, he has, in a sense returned to his roots,” the foundation said. “He has drawn from his European architectural formation and work, combining them with the traditions, needs and customs of his country.”

Centre for Health and Social Welfare, photo courtesy of Francis Kéré

The architect told The AP that “I started where I was born, and where population growth is a key issue and infrastructure is urgently needed. I had a duty to my people and it was important for me to use materials that are abundant and build with approaches that cause little burden to the environment. So my buildings were solution-oriented. And these solutions, I realized, were transferable across locations and time as all human-made crises are needing solutions based in sustainable thinking.”

National Park of Mali, photo courtesy of Iwan Baan

Kéré has specialized in designs for school institutions, health facilities, civic buildings and housing. “Through his commitment to social justice and engagement, and intelligent use of local materials to connect and respond to the natural climate, he works in marginalized countries laden with constraints and adversity, where architecture and infrastructure are absent,” organizers said.

A 2001 project for the Gando Primary School in Burkina Faso, for example, was a challenge to both “fulfill an essential need and redeem social inequities.” Organizers said a dual solution was required — “a physical and contemporary design for a facility that could combat extreme heat and poor lighting conditions with limited resources, and a social resoluteness to overcome incertitude from within the community.” They said Kéré raised funds for the project internationally and created work opportunities for local citizens.

Gando Primary School Extension, photo courtesy of Erik-Jan Ouwerkerk

As an example of using local materials, the architect used indigenous clay fortified with cement to form bricks that were designed to retain cooler air inside while allowing heat to escape through a brick ceiling and an elevated roof — ventilation without the need for air conditioning. The project enabled the school’s student body to increase from 120 to 700 students.

“He knows, from within, that architecture is not about the object but the objective; not the product, but the process,” the jury citation read. “His buildings, for and with communities, are directly of those communities — in their making, their materials, their programs and their unique characters.”

Gando Primary School, photo courtesy of Erik-Jan Ouwerkerk

Organizers hailed “a poetic expression of light” throughout Kéré’s works: “Rays of sun filter into buildings, courtyards and intermediary spaces, overcoming harsh midday conditions to offer places of serenity or gathering.”

Another more recent campus project, at a technical school in Kenya, used local quarry stone and stacked towers to minimize air conditioning required to protect technology equipment. And at the Burkina Institute of Technology, Kéré used cooling clay walls and repurposed overhanging eucalyptus to line corrugated metal roofs, the foundation said.

Burkina Institute of Technology, photo courtesy of Francis Kéré

He was also commissioned to build a new home for the National Assembly of Burkina Faso in Ouagadougou, after an uprising in 2014 destroyed the former structure. It has yet to be built “amidst present uncertain times,” the foundation said. The plan includes a pyramid-shaped structure to house a 127-person assembly hall in the interior and enable 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 foundation said.

Kéré is the 51st Laureate of the Pritzker Architecture Prize, established in 1979 by the late entrepreneur Jay A. Pritzker and his wife, Cindy. Winners receive a $100,000 grant and a bronze medallion.

Burkina Faso National Assembly, rendering courtesy of Kéré Architecture
Sarbalé Ke, photo courtesy of Francis Kéré
Gando Primary School, photo courtesy of Erik-Jan Ouwerkerk