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Burkina Faso-German receives Pritzker Prize

Jocelyn Noveck

AP – 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, organisers said on Tuesday.

“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 honour in the field, to Kéré, 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 (AP), 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 honour”, 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.”

The Lycée Schorge in Burkina Faso. PHOTO: AP

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, organisers 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.”

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 realised, were transferable across locations and time as all human-made crises are needing solutions based in sustainable thinking”.

Kéré has specialised 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 marginalised countries laden with constraints and adversity, where architecture and infrastructure are absent,” organisers said.

A 2001 project for the Gando Primary School in Burkina Faso, for example, was a challenge to both “fulfil an essential need and redeem social inequities”.

Organisers 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.

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.