On March 15, Diébédo Francis Kéré was awarded the Pritzker Price 2022, the Nobel Prize in architecture. A recognition that, since 1979, has been awarded to the greatest names in contemporary architecture: Renzo Piano, Oscar Niemeyer, Alejandro Aravena, Jean Nouvel, Richard Rogers and Alvaro Siza.
Born 57 years ago in Gando, a very poor village of 3000 souls in the heart of Burkina Faso (a country where 45% of the population is below the poverty line and the illiteracy rate exceeds 80%) Francis Kéré has managed to become one of the protagonists of a new way of doing architecture in difficult contexts.
In May he will be in Milan to take care of the set-up and participate in the 23th Triennale International Exhibition of Milan. We reach him in Berlin where, since 2005, his architecture studio has been based.
Why did you think he won the Pritzker?
Each of my projects starts from a desire and wants to create desires: that's why I worked mainly on school and community buildings. The motivation for this award starts from there, and from the attention I put into the process: I'm interested in the road I take to build a building, more than the building; the materials I choose and the way I use them, attention to ecological behaviors, which respect the environment and do not waste resources.
In architecture today it has become very important to pay attention to all these aspects. In Burkina Faso I did not have sophisticated materials available, so I used clay mixed with cement, wood, terracotta, local and natural materials that allowed to contain costs and employ local labor, exporting knowledge and education. And the result was a beautiful, comfortable school, naturally protected from heat and sun.
So what should be the role of architecture today?
Cities are a concentrate of architecture and absorb resources and money. An architect today must ask himself questions such as which resources to use, how to design without being dependent on coal... In this, African architecture can play a leading role because it has always been confronted with difficult contexts and environments, it knows the climate problems and those related to extreme water scarcity (another decisive issue).
Architecture is a tool capable of triggering very powerful positive dynamics. If you bring a school to a village, and build it well, soon there will be a need for a library, and then dormitories for the teachers, then new classrooms. And you will have changed a village. Architecture is not an individual matter, a private task, but a duty towards the community, to improve people's lives.
What will we see at the 23rd Triennale: Yesterday's Tomorrow?
We all ask ourselves “what are we going to do tomorrow? What will the future be like? ", We are obsessed with it, but we cannot find an answer to this question if we forget the past: we must learn from yesterday's history to build tomorrow's, be able to bring together more sophisticated technology with the paradigms of the past. This is why "yesterday is tomorrow": without the past there can be no future.
I will bring to Milan the result of a work choral, in which some students of the Polytechnic and some representatives of the Burkinabé community living in Italy are involved. We will use clay bricks to create a large arch on the outside, an obligatory passage that will guide visitors into the space that I have called the "Unknown Unknowns", unknown unknowns that we do not know we do not know.
All around, a wall painted with the traditional motifs of Burkina Faso architecture, thus bringing into the future a traditional practice that aims to protect the inhabitants of a house, but also an open sculpture that welcomes visitors and can be touched, used, modified with one's presence, and which ends in a sheltered area where they can stop and sit. And immerse yourself in this material as ancient as the world.
Cover photo: LÇo Doctors' Housing @ Francis Kéré