Pritzker Prize goes to architect from West Africa

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Pritzker Prize goes to architect from West Africa
In a photo provided via Francis Kéré shows, the Center for Health and Social Welfare (2014), in Laongo, Burkina Faso, allows views “for everyone.” Using indigenous materials and local symbols, Kéré makes buildings that serve the community he came from. Via Francis Kéré via The New York Times.

by Robin Pogrebin

NEW YORK, NY.- Growing up in a poor village in Burkina Faso, Francis Kéré did not play soccer with the other boys. He helped fix houses.

After winning a scholarship to a vocational school for carpentry in Germany and attending architecture school at the Technical University of Berlin, Kéré did not rush to join a prestigious firm. As an architecture student, he had raised the money to build an elementary school in his hometown, Gando, with construction help from local residents, drawing blueprints for them in the sand.

And even after earning international acclaim at exhibitions such as the Serpentine Pavilion in London and the Venice Biennale, Kéré has continually directed his attention toward home.

It is this devotion to lifting up the community he came from that has helped Kéré, 56, earn the Pritzker Prize, architecture’s highest honor, which was announced Tuesday.

“His buildings, for and with communities, are directly of those communities — in their making, their materials, their programs and their unique characters,” the jury said in its citation. “They are tied to the ground on which they sit and to the people who sit within them. They have presence without pretense and an impact shaped by grace.”

Kéré, in a telephone interview, said he was moved by the Pritzker recognition — he said he cried — and that he was surprised to have come to the jury’s attention.

“I still don’t believe” it, he said. “I’ve been pushing this work in architecture to bring good-quality architecture to my people.”

That work has taken the form of schools, libraries, health care centers and public spaces — often in underserved areas where Kéré makes the most of limited resources and draws on West African traditions. His projects have been concentrated in Africa, including Benin, Burkina Faso, Mali, Togo, Kenya, Mozambique and Sudan.

In the absence of air-conditioning for his Gando Primary School (2001), Kéré used cement-fortified bricks and an elevated, overhanging roof to counteract conditions of extreme heat and poor lighting.

That project increased the school’s student body to 700 students from 120 and led to Kéré’s design for teachers’ housing (2004), an extension (2008) and a library (2019). Last year, T Magazine named the primary school one of the 25 most significant buildings built after World War II.

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.

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