Diébédo Francis Kéré
Diébédo Francis Kéré was born April 10, 1965 in Gando, Burkina Faso and studied at the Technical University of Berlin. Parallel to his studies, he established the Kéré Foundation e.V. (formerly Schulbausteine für Gando e.V.), and in 2005 he founded Kéré Architecture. His architectural practice has been recognized nationally and internationally with awards including the Aga Khan Award for Architecture (2004) for his first building, the Gando Primary School in Burkina Faso, and the Global Holcim Award 2012 Gold. Kéré has undertaken projects in varied countries including Burkina Faso, Mali, Germany, the United States, Kenya, and Uganda. In 2017 the Serpentine Galleries commissioned him to design the Serpentine Pavilion in London. He has held professorships at the Harvard Graduate School of Design and the Swiss Accademia di Architettura di Mendrisio. In 2017 he accepted the professorship for “Architectural Design and Participation” at TU München (Germany).
During his studies he felt it was his duty to contribute to his family and to the community which had supported him, and to give the next generation the opportunity to follow in his footsteps. In 1998, with the help of his friends, Kéré set up the association Schulbausteine für Gando e.V. (now Kéré Foundation e.V.), which loosely translates as “Building Blocks for Gando”, to fund the construction of a primary school for his village. His objective was to combine the knowledge he had gained in Europe, with traditional building methods from Burkina Faso. He completed his studies and built the first school in Gando as his diploma project in 2004, while also opening his own architectural office Kéré Architecture.
Projects in Gando
Gando Primary School
Kéré Primary School in Gando
The primary school was built out of mud bricks, something the community was initially somewhat skeptical about. They were concerned that a mud brick construction would not survive the rain season. But Kéré’s innovative design provided the solution. A wide, raised tin roof protects the walls from the rain, and allows air to circulate underneath in order to keep the building cool. The community was delighted to find the school still standing after ten years, and the building is much cooler and more pleasant to work in than the conventional concrete school buildings. Kéré’s design has become renowned throughout Burkina Faso, and won the Aga Khan Award for Architecture in 2004.
One of the major issues encountered was how to explain plans and designs in a village where most people are illiterate. On drawing a preliminary plan in the sand he found the community fully engaged in the project, many of them coming up with their own suggestions of how to improve it. As Kéré says, “Only those who are involved in the development process can appreciate the results achieved, develop them further and protect them”.
The entire population of Gando took part in the construction of the school. Everybody wanted to help – women prepared the floor while the men pressed earth for the brick walls and collected stones for the foundations. They received on-site training in construction techniques which they could use to build their own houses and to get jobs. Two neighboring villages were impressed by Gando’s community’s organization and achievement. They are now, step by step, building their own school in cooperation with Gando. The value of this project is also recognized by the local authorities: not only are they paying the teachers in the primary school, but they also contribute by employing more and more young people from Gando on their own construction projects.
Gando School Extension
Kéré Primary School extension in Gando
The construction of the school extension was designed to suit the hot climate, and to make use of resources available locally. Every morning for a year, the children of Gando brought a stone to the construction site to provide the material for the foundation, showing them how their personal actions could contribute towards a community project.
As with the primary school, the big overhanging tin roof protects the clay walls from sun and rain. The air between ceiling and roof becomes very hot, causing it to rise, and draw cooler air from beneath. In this way, the combination of solar and thermal energy produce air circulation and a cooling effect for the classrooms. The first primary school used a flat roof which was effective, but required a large amount of steel cladding, making it expensive. Therefore, the primary school extension uses a rounded vault roof, which needs fewer steel supports.
The cooler temperatures create much better working conditions, and considerably influence the pupils’ achievements. Today, they have the best academic results in the region.
Gando School Library
Kéré’s Library in Gando
The eucalyptus facade around the library creates a calm and open space in which pupils can both study and relax. In Burkina Faso, eucalyptus trees are usually used as firewood since they dry out the soil and only creates a small amount of shade. This is the first time in Gando that eucalyptus wood has been used for construction.
The roof’s design also represents a technical innovation: for the first time, traditional clay pots have been cut in half and inserted in the ceiling, letting in light and allowing air to circulate.
Gando Teachers’ Housing
Kéré, Teachers’ accommodation in Gando
To resolve this problem, teachers’ accommodation was built on the school premises in 2003. The first aim of the teachers’ housing project was to develop an environmentally-friendly and sustainable housing concept, adapted to people’s needs and financial situation. The houses had to offer a reasonable amount of comfort in order to attract teachers, and to give them a pleasant working environment.
The housing concept is based on a simple unit built in the traditional style. It can be constructed as a single unit for one person, or as several units which can be combined for families. From the start, the inhabitants of Gando took an active part in every step of this project: they not only observed but also participated in the development of construction techniques. The construction materials consisted exclusively of local resources in order to allow the villagers to adapt or further develop the houses if they wished to.
Climate is a decisive factor in the methods and materials used. Clay walls and the adobe roof keep the houses cool and regulate the room temperature. This technique works so successfully that the houses have acquired the name “wonderful fridges”, a great compliment for a house in Burkina Faso.
Gando Mango Tree Project
Starvation is rare, but malnutrition is common in Gando and the surrounding area. The main staple is “foufou”, which consists of pounded and boiled millet. It contains few vitamins, and most people eat just once a day. Mangoes provide an important source of nourishment, and the vitamins help to strengthen the immune system. Furthermore, mango trees provide a vital source of shade. Daytime temperatures often reach 40 °C. In the midst of this intolerable heat, the cool space under a mango tree becomes an important meeting place for the village community, where children play, study and rest. A further objective is to teach pupils responsibility. Each pupil is given a tree to look after. In this way they learn how to plant and care for trees, and this is knowledge which they will pass on to their parents and the next generation.
Due to the rapidly expanding population, and the predominance of firewood as the main source of fuel, Burkina Faso has lost 60% of its trees in the last 15 years. This has led to detrimental consequences for the environment. Trees provide shade, protect the soil from erosion, stop desertification and regulate the groundwater regime. In addition to this, trees contribute to soil fertility, and to biodiversity in that they provide a habitat for many species.
With Burkina Faso’s hot and dry climate and the severe shortage of rain between October and June, many plants and saplings can simply not survive. In addition to this many are destroyed by termites. Pesticides and fertilizer are both prohibitively expensive and damaging to the environment. Therefore, Kéré developed an innovative concept:
In preparation for planting the tree a hole is dug and filled with old bones and meat, and left for a few days. After a while, the bones and meat attract ants, which colonize the hole and eat the termites. This enables the trees to grow without needing any insecticide. Animals such as chickens are kept in the shade of the trees, and their dung provides natural fertilizer for the trees, so that artificial fertilizers are not necessary.
Instead of watering the trees twice a day, Kéré came up with the following idea: placing traditional hand-made clay pots next to the trees, with drippers targeted directly to the roots. The clay pots prevent evaporation from taking place and only need to be filled once a week, giving the trees a small but constant supply of water. In this way, a simple yet effective method can make a positive impact on the lives of people in Gando.
Gando School Garden and Well
To this end, an allotment has been established on the school grounds, and a well has been dug to provide water both for the school and for the village. Alongside their classes, the pupils learn how to take care of the plants without using any pesticides or fertilizers, encouraging them to use sustainable methods in future. In a region where food is scarce and most people have a very repetitive diet, the school garden provides an important contribution to food security.
Gando Secondary School
Kéré Secondary school in Gando
The new building complex will include 12 classrooms, a school hall, a library, an administrative building and several sports fields. It will accommodate approximately 1000 students. The layout is inspired by the traditional rural households in Burkina Faso: the classrooms are set out in a circular fashion forming a protected courtyard, shielding it from the dust and sand brought by the Harmattan winds. The structure is open on its West side, allowing a cool breeze to enter the area.
The very hot temperatures, large class sizes and lack of air-conditioning in Burkina Faso make it very difficult for pupils to concentrate. Therefore, we developed an innovative air-cooling system only using natural ventilation. The school is surrounded by a bank of earth, on which trees are planted. The trees provide shade, and rainwater is gathered to provide them with water. Perforated pipes are laid underneath the earth banks, and gather moisture. Wind cools down as it blows through the pipes, and emerges in the classrooms through holes in the floor, providing a zero emissions under-floor cooling system. This design won the 2012 Global Holcim Award Gold.
The secondary school uses the same roof design as the primary school, with a wide corrugated iron roof raised above a clay ceiling. Air circulates between ceiling and roof, heats up and rises, creating a suction current below. This causes the cool air from the under-floor pipes to rise, reducing room temperature by an estimated 6 – 8 °C. With simple yet effective methods such as these, the school requires little electricity both in construction and maintenance.
Burkina Faso’s expanding population and the predominant use of firewood as fuel have resulted in major deforestation problems. An estimated 60% of the countries trees have been chopped down in the last 15 years. Worse, reforestation programmes often plant eucalyptus trees which grow easily and quickly, but soak up vast amounts of groundwater at the expense of local agriculture.
In order to combat this problem, the secondary school uses wood from eucalyptus trees for construction, and mango trees are planted in their place. The mango trees need less water, produce fruit and provide more shade than eucalyptus trees, which the pupils make use of during breaks.
As with his other projects, the secondary school uses local manpower for construction. Specialists trained by Francis Kéré supervise members of the local community, training them in the necessary building techniques. Rather than building the walls brick by brick, Kéré has devised a way of pouring mud and a small quantity of cement into a mould, which is much quicker. This skills transfer enables the villagers to replicate the building design, and encourages them to adopt sustainable methods rather than the usual concrete option.
Kéré Secondary school in Dano
Burkina Faso is ranked the 7th poorest country in the world, nearly all of its energy has to be imported and electricity is scarce and unreliable in supply. It is therefore essential to avoid reliance on electricity, and air conditioning is out of the question. The solution was to use Kéré’s award-winning roof design with its system of natural ventilation. As it gets hot in the classrooms, the heat rises and escapes through vents in the ceiling, and air can circulate between the mud brick ceiling and the raised tin roof.
Finished in 2007, the building work was largely done by people trained in the Gando school projects, giving them the opportunity to use and develop their skills. There was no need to bring a team of architects, engineers and builders from Europe. By training local people, the projects dramatically reduce construction costs, and provide local people with the skills for maintenance and repairs.
Centre for Earth Architecture, Mopti
Kéré Centre for Earth Architecture in Mopti, Mali
From the top of the flood barrier you can see that the building is aligned with the mosque. The building has a simple structure and its height corresponds to the neighbouring buildings without compromising the view of the mosque. When viewed from across the lake the Centre manages to maintain a connection with the mosque but does not dominate the view.
The Centre is divided, according to its programme, into three different buildings which are connected by two roof surfaces. Clay for the building was brought from 5 km away, so that the red colour would contrast with the colour of the local buildings, which are all made using traditional mud construction. The rusty red colour of the laterite clay is due to its high iron oxide content. All the walls and barrel vaults in the Centre are made out of BTC (compressed earth blocks) and are not plastered or painted. These are very well suited to the climatic conditions as they create a natural temperature buffer, making indoor temperatures much more comfortable. The overhanging roof blocks keep the walls cool and provide shaded outdoor spaces. The building is naturally ventilated through openings in the walls and vaults, therefore mechanical air-conditioning is not needed. Most vernacular buildings in Mopti have wooden ceilings filled with clay. Kéré uses a new system in this building that involves no wood – BTC vaults. He wants to promote the use of clay but to be sparing in his use of wood, as deforestation is a huge environmental issue in Mali.
The landscape project includes wide public spaces and a promenade on the top of the flood barrier. The construction site was backfilled in order to make the lakeside accessible to the public.
View of the construction site of the Opera Village
Burkina Faso suffered major flooding at the end of August 2009. At the time, Francis was travelling with Thomas George, Christoph’s stage designer, in Burkina, and thus witnessed the floods and the destruction they caused. A few hours after the water had receded, Francis and Thomas tried to look at a site in the capital, Ouagadougou, that Christoph had identified as a possible location for the opera house. However this site, located on the boundary between official and informal settlements, didn’t exist anymore. It had been completely washed away by the floods. The people living there had lost everything within a few hours. After this experience, Francis and Christoph realized that the opera house project should no longer be the main topic of discussion. They began to develop a way to help people rebuild their homes by designing a suitable housing prototype for these people. For Francis as an architect and urban planner, this was an opportunity to develop a module that could be integrated into the project. In this way, the ‘opera village’ project was born out of a catastrophe.
The opera village “Remdoogo” is being constructed on a 12-hectare site on a little rise in Laongo, one hour’s drive from the capital of Burkina Faso and overlooking the West African landscape of the Sahel zone. A festival theatre, workshops, medical centre and guest houses are planned, as well as solar panels, a well and a school for up to 500 children and teenagers with music and film classes. Central to the project is the festival hall with the theatre inside. The stage and auditorium were designed and constructed for a piece of theatre in Germany and not used again afterwards. Now they are going to be transformed in Burkina Faso to meet the needs of the Opera village.
The support construction of the stand and the rotating stage will be maintained. The seat rows and interior walls will be covered with Burkinabe fabrics. The theatre will be completely enclosed by a 15 m high covering to shelter it from the outside conditions.
Simple basic modules, which vary in quality and function depending on the equipment they house, comprise the entire village. Local people will be employed to build the modules, and local materials such as clay, laterite, cement bricks, gum wood and loam rendering will be used for construction. For reinforcing elements such as beams, columns, ring-beams and foundations, concrete will be used. Due to the massive walls and large overhang of the roofs, air conditioning could be discounted in most buildings.
The theatre hall should be a place of encounter and exchange for people of different cultural and family backgrounds.
National Park of Mali, Bamako
The restaurant is situated on top of a rock formation and is arranged around the different height levels. From this height, the restaurant has views over the National Park and a nearby lake. The building is divided into four sections, each with a different function.
The sports centre uses the same architectural concept as the restaurant. It consists of three pavilions which are arranged around an elliptical playground. The buildings are arranged to produce as much shade as possible both in the playground and the interior recreational areas. The relationship between interior and exterior spaces played a major role in the design.
All the buildings are clad with local natural stone, which reinforces the local identity and saves building costs. The exterior stone walls create isolated interior spaces and regulate interior temperature. The large overhanging roofs provide shade and create a more comfortable inside climate. In certain rooms, such as the dining hall in the restaurant, air-conditioning is used and the gap between the wall and the roof is closed. The project was completed in 2010.
Zhou Shan Harbour Development, China
The site is on an island about 300 metres from the mainland. The chosen plot of land contains a dense assortment of buildings, docks and warehouses, built over several decades. The landscape of the site is very diverse; to the south lies steep mountainous hillside, while the northern part of the site is characterised by rivers running through it. The mountain, the sea, the city and the hundreds of boats form a striking backdrop for the site. At night the skyline of the city is illuminated and the mountain glows above the water of the fishery.
Diébédo Francis Kéré has designed an exhibition gallery, an information centre, artists’ studios and a “cultural creativity garden” for the area. The scheme is designed around a platform that extends across the site all the way to the mountain, which borders the site to the west. This will serve as a space of transition between the man-made environment of the developed district and the natural environment beyond. The platform also turns a previously open road into a tunnel and therefore creates more space for new constructions.
The building below the platform used to be an ice factory. Kéré Architecture will make use of the existing water reservoir on top of this building by transforming it into a garden with plants growing around the water. Visitors to the three Chinese tea houses within the garden will benefit from the pleasant air quality and beautiful views of the mountain and the site.
Two new buildings on top of the platform provide the space required for the exhibition and the art gallery. The first building is situated at the end of the platform close to the mountain, establishing an interaction between architecture and nature. The second one, identical in shape and size, stands perpendicular to the first. The exhibition space can either operate independently or in conjunction with the artists’ studios. Together with the three boxes of the Tea House this ensemble defines an open yard on the platform.
Additionally the roof section of the old factory has been cut into halves, allowing a walk through it. Daylight can travel as far as the ground floor. Inside and outside are linked visually, as the series of individual buildings opens up a variety of views, inviting visitors to walk through and to discover the diversity of the works in the Creativity Garden. A generous open air flight of stairs guides visitors to the top of the platform; it presents a pleasant opportunity to sit and rest in summertime.
The materials used and the ventilation system are simple and low-tech. Concrete is used as a basic construction material due to its resistance to humidity. The main structure of the factory will be removed and restored.
The best possible level of transparency is achieved by means of floor-to-ceiling glass elements. Sunlight gets into the rooms and there are unlimited views over the entire site. The southern and eastern facades are particularly exposed to the sun in summertime. Bamboo poles serve as exterior shades characterised by their natural irregular structure. The northern and western facades facing the mountains and harbour will remain free of extra layers. Wood panels alternate with glass elements, thus the needs for both transparency and solar protection are met.
To prevent overheating in summertime, air is allowed to move through the interstitial space between the facade layers. The open arrangement of the buildings supports this method of ventilation.
Medical Centre, Léo
As the project has limited funding, Kéré Architecture used pre-planned modules as the basis for the project. As in the Gando secondary school, the walls will be constructed from cast earth, and the roofs will be tin. The modules are arranged so that their roofs overlap, in order to provide more shade. In the final phase of the design, the space between the modules has become interior space. The “corridor” of space between the rows of modules is a wide, open circulation space, with benches for people to relax on and trees for shade.
International Red Cross and Red Crescent Museum, Geneva
The dark entrance passage, bounded by hemp concrete walls, encourages the visitor to consider the frightened and suffocating emotions of family tragedy during conflict. Central to this part of the exhibition is a tower, also made of hemp concrete, which is an architectural reference to a traditional hut for a nuclear family. It lets in very little light and has a Corten steel floor with a rusty appearance. This space is a memorial to tragedies such as the Srebrenica genocide.
The “Tree of Messages”, with its metal branches, is a reminder of the cold contrast between nature and war. The connection between nature and the family is an important sub-theme in Kéré’s part of the exhibition. The “Room of Witnesses” is a direct contrast to the tower as here the focus is on transparency and hope rather than darkness and despair. This space emphasizes the important role eyewitness testimony plays in humanitarian action.
The use of simple materials here is to emphasize the fundamental connection between the family, roots and nature, and thus the great importance of the difficult search for the missing.