‘Climate, democracy and scarcity concerns us all’ – West African architect

West African architect, educator and social activist Diébédo Francis Kéré has been chosen as the 2022 Laureate of the Pritzker Architecture Prize, which is often referred to as ‘architecture’s Nobel”. The international prize, established by the Pritzker family in 1979, honours a living architect whose built work demonstrates talent, vision, and commitment, which has produced consistent and significant contributions to humanity and the built environment through architecture.

Doctors House – Pritzker Prize photo

“Francis Kéré is pioneering architecture – sustainable to the earth and its inhabitants – in lands of extreme scarcity. 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,” says Tom Pritzker, chairman of The Hyatt Foundation, which sponsors the award. “Through buildings that demonstrate beauty, modesty, boldness and invention, and by the integrity of his architecture and geste, Kéré gracefully upholds the mission of this Prize.”

“I am hoping to change the paradigm, push people to dream and undergo risk. It is not because you are rich that you should waste material. It is not because you are poor that you should not try to create quality,” says Kéré. “Everyone deserves quality, everyone deserves luxury, and everyone deserves comfort. We are interlinked and concerns in climate, democracy and scarcity are concerns for us all.”

The primary school he designed in his home community of Gando in 2001 addressed extreme heat and poor lighting conditions with limited resources, while creating opportunities for local citizens. Indigenous clay was fortified with cement to form bricks with bioclimatic thermal mass, retaining cooler air inside while allowing heat to escape through a brick ceiling and wide, overhanging, elevated roof, resulting in ventilation without the mechanical intervention of air conditioning. The success of this project increased the school’s student body from 120 to 700 students, and catalyzed Teachers’ Housing in 2004, an extension in 2008 and the library in 2019.

Primary school, Gando – photo by Erik Jan Owerkerk, Pritzker Prize

“He knows, from within, that architecture is not about the object but the objective; not the product, but the process,” says the 2022 Jury Citation. “Francis Kéré’s entire body of work shows us the power of materiality rooted in place. His buildings, for and with communities, are directly of those communities – in their making, their materials, their programs and their unique characters.”

The Startup Lions Campus built in 2021 in Turkana, Kenya, uses local quarry stone and stacked towers for passive cooling to minimize the air conditioning needed to protect technology equipment. Burkina Institute of Technology is composed of cooling clay walls cast in-situ to accelerate the building process. Overhanging eucalyptus, which provide minimal shade and deplete soil nutrients, were repurposed to line the angled corrugated metal roofs, which protect the building during the country’s brief rainy reason, and rainwater is collected underground to irrigate mango plantations on the premises.

Centre for Health and Social Welfare, photo courtesy of Francis Kéré (Pritzker Prize)

The concrete roof of Gando Primary School Library was poured around a grid of traditional clay pots that left openings for natural light allowing heat to escape. A facade of eucalyptus wood surrounds the elliptical building, creating flexible outdoor spaces that emit light vertically. Benga Riverside School built in Tete, Mozambique in 2018 features walls patterned with small recurring voids, allowing light and transparency to evoke feelings of trust from its students. The walls of Centre for Health and Social Welfare built in Laongo in 2014 have a pattern of framed windows at various heights to allow views of the landscape for everyone, from a standing doctor to a sitting visitor to a lying patient.

After a 2014 uprising destroyed the former National Assembly of Burkina Faso in Ouagadougou, Kéré was commissioned to design a new building. His designs call for a stepped and lattice pyramidal building that houses a 127-person assembly hall inside while encouraging informal gathering outside. It is part of a greater master plan that envisions indigenous flora, exhibition spaces, courtyards, and a monument to those who lost their lives protesting against the old regime, although it is not yet built.

“In a world in crisis, amidst changing values and generations,” says the citation, “he reminds us of what has been, and will undoubtedly continue to be a cornerstone of architectural practice: a sense of community and narrative quality, which he himself is so able to recount with compassion and pride. In this he provides a narrative in which architecture can become a source of continued and lasting happiness and joy.”


Diébédo Francis Kéré Receives the 2022 Pritzker Architecture Prize. The Pritzker Architecture Prize, Mar. 15, 2022

Architect from West Africa receives the Pritzer prize, architecture’s highest honor. The World, PRI, Mar. 17, 2022

Ten key projects by Pritzker Architecture Prize-winner Diébédo Francis Kéré. dezeen, Mar. 15, 2022

Serpentine Pavilion glows at night to “attract people to come and celebrate” says Diébédo Francis Kéré. dezeen, Jun. 21, 2017, on YouTube

Look to West Africa for the Future of Green Architecture. Bloomberg, Apr. 8, 2022.

The future of mud. Atlantic, Jul. 5, 2022

Featured image by GandoIT/Wikimedia