On 15 March Tom Pritzker, Chairman of the Hyatt Foundation, which sponsors the Pritzker Prize, announced the winner of the 2022 Prize in Chicago: the world’s most important award for architecture, considered the equivalent of the “Nobel Prize”, is assigned to Diébédo Francis Kéré.
Born in Burkina Faso, though his studio is based in Berlin, Francis Kéré is the first African architect to be awarded a Pritzker Prize. The choice was acclaimed around the world, both for the quality of his architecture and for the architect’s social and professional commitment. Since he built Gando Primary School (2001, Gando, Burkina Faso) in his native village, the project that first brought him to the attention of the world, Francis Kéré has turned out to be a pioneer in architecture that is sustainable for the earth and its inhabitants. His projects, most of which have been built in fragile, difficult circumstances, with limited resources and a shortage of infrastructure, have a value that goes well beyond the structural: buildings firmly rooted in their sites and material qualities, buildings that improve their users’ lives and experiences, that become a part of the change and growth of the community for which they were designed. Structures which are often built with the active contribution of the community that will be using them, like Gando Primary School, built with the aid of the entire village.
These are projects that implement what the architect calls a change of paradigm. What he means is that they encourage people to dream, to create quality, whatever their current circumstances, because being poor does not mean you cannot aspire for beauty and comfort. And Francis Kéré’s architecture is beautiful: welcoming structures, in harmony with their surroundings, making poetic use of the light that filters in through the buildings and the intermediate spaces between inside and outside that are necessary to mitigate the effects of the hot African sun. Projects containing strong symbolism revealing the influence of the architect’s African experience. One example is the tradition of getting together under a sacred tree to share stories and festivals, a symbol revived in his Serpentine Pavilion (2017, London, United Kingdom) and in his colourful, evocative Sarbalé Ke artistic installations for the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival (2019, California, United States).
As the jury of the Pritzker noted, in these times of crisis, characterised by changing values, the works of Francis Kéré have the ability to remind us of the sense of community inherent in architecture and how it can become a source of lasting joy and happiness.
All Images courtesy of Diébédo Francis Kéré and The Hyatt Foundation
01, 04-06 Gando Primary School 2001 Gando, Burkina Faso - Photo courtesy of Erik-Jan Ouwerkerk
02 Léo Doctors’ Housing 2019 Léo, Burkina Faso - Photo courtesy of Francis Kéré
03 Diébédo Francis Kéré, photo courtesy of Lars Borges
07-08 Serpentine Pavilion 2017 London, United Kingdom Photo courtesy of Iwan Baan (08), Francis Kéré (07)
09-10 Sarbalé Ke 2019 California, United States Photo courtesy of Iwan Baan