Sometimes the keys to happiness are at our feet and that, the Burkinabè architect Francis Diébédo Kéré has understood. At a time when builders systematically turned to cement, concrete and other materials of industrial manufacture, the Burkinabè built buildings in earth and clay; materials that the builders had forgotten.
His achievements have earned him an international reputation that most African architects can only dream of. But this notoriety, Francis Diébédo Kéré deserved it, by proving that one could, in Africa, build buildings of quality using local materials.
Gando or the beginning of a quest
Francis Diébédo Kéré was born in 1956 in Gando, a small village in Burkina Faso. He spent his first years there but had to leave at the age of 7, because the village did not have a primary school. This forced Diébédo Kéré’s father, the village chief, to send him to Ouagadougou. As the young man leaves his family, he gives himself a goal, one that will guide him towards architecture. “I did not have a dream but simply the desire to build a small school in my home,” he said. he, years later, at a conference. However, at the end of his primary studies, the young man passed a CAP (Certificate of Professional Aptitude) in carpentry and became a carpenter. He will soon be disappointed by this job, in a country where wood is scarce and orders for joinery unprofitable. Fortunately, Diébédo Kéré learns that Germany provides scholarships to young people in developing countries. After obtaining a scholarship, the Burkinabé, then aged 20, arrived in Germany in 1985. He devoted himself entirely to learning German. Once the language is mastered, Francis Diébédo Kéré takes the baccalaureate in Germany. After graduating, he began studying architecture at the Technical University of Berlin, while doing odd jobs for a living. The Burkinabe will graduate in 2004, 3 years after completing the project for which he signed up in architecture.
“Our architecture is the earth”
During his studies, Francis Diébédo Kéré, does not forget his village. In 1998, he created the association Schulbausteine für Gando (“Bricks for Gando’s school”), to finance his project to build a primary school for his native village. With the first funds obtained, he obtained a brick press. He then decides, despite a tight budget, to start the project. But for that, Francis Diébédo Kéré must obtain the approval of the chief of Gando, his father, and convince the inhabitants of the village, which promises to be complicated. Indeed, while all the residents expect a school built on the Western model, in cement and concrete, Francis Diébédo Kéré has a vision completely opposite to their expectations. For him, this school should be built with local materials, in this case clay. It is justified by explaining that clay bricks, in addition to being as solid as those in cement, easily absorb heat to provide natural ventilation to buildings. The explanations of Francis Diébédo Kéré are enough to convince his father, but the population remains skeptical. The Burkinabé then built a small structure based on clay brick. He offers residents to check its solidity by climbing on it. Once this test has passed, the inhabitants are convinced and the project can start. Gando’s school will be completed in 2001. His success has spread around the world. It stands out not only for its natural ventilation, but also for its style. In 2004, the project received the prestigious Aga Khan architecture award. It is not only the construction of a school that this award recognizes, but a particular conception of architecture. Francis Diébédo Kéré will only build with local materials. “(The earth, the local rocks, the sand …) that’s it, that’s all I use. Our architecture is the earth, “said the Burkinabé with conviction in an interview. The achievements are linked (construction of the Mali National Park, the Zhou Shan Harbor Development in China, the Museum of the International Committees of the Red Cross and the Red Crescent in Switzerland) and, with them, follow numerous distinctions (Global Award for Sustainable Architecture 2009, BSI Swiss Architectural Award 2010, Marcus Prize for Architecture 2011, Global Holcim Award Gold 2012). From victory to victory, Francis Diébédo Kéré becomes a monument of world architecture
Since 2010, Francis Diébédo kéré has been teaching architecture at the prestigious Harvard University. Now considered an authority in the architectural field, the Burkinabé, who has become one of the greatest pride of the African continent, shares its experience during international conferences attended by the most renowned experts. Gando’s child built his legend, from earth and clay.