Francis Kéré Is First Black Man Awarded Pritzker Architecture Prize | My Modern Met


By Arnesia Young on March 17, 2022

2022 Pritzker Architecture Prize Winner, Diébédo Francis Kéré. (Photo: Lars Borges, courtesy of The Pritzker Architecture Prize)

“This is not just a prize for myself”

In the world of architecture, the Pritzker Architecture Prize is considered the profession’s highest honor. It is sometimes even referred to as “architecture’s Nobel,” awarded for significant achievement to living architects whose work “has produced consistent and significant contributions to humanity and the built environment.” Receiving an award of such high esteem would be an honor for anyone, but this year’s Pritzker Prize Laureate is also making history as the first Black man and the first African architect to receive the prestigious prize.

The pioneering honoree, Diébédo Francis Kéré (known professionally as Francis Kéré) was born in Burkina Faso—a country in West Africa whose name means “land of the upright [honest] people.” Though there was no school in his small village of Gando, Kéré’s parents insisted that their son be educated. This eventually led him to study in Berlin on a carpentry scholarship and later pursue an advanced degree in architecture.

 

Although he left his country to pursue higher education, Kéré’s heart was never far from his homeland. In fact, his experiences growing up in Gando from childhood have influenced every facet of his architectural practice from the outset. “I grew up in a community where there was no kindergarten, but where community was your family,” Kéré recalls. “Everyone took care of you and the entire village was your playground. My days were filled with securing food and water, but also simply being together, talking together, building houses together. I remember the room where my grandmother would sit and tell stories with a little light, while we would huddle close to each other and her voice inside the room enclosed us, summoning us to come closer and form a safe place. This was my first sense of architecture.”

Unlike the usual celebrity “starchitects” that the Pritzker has generally been awarded to until now, Kéré has been much lesser-known. His signature buildings include structures like primary schools and healthcare facilities built back in his homeland of Burkina Faso and surrounding regions. Influenced by his childhood memories of studying for hours at a time in extreme temperatures—often over 100 degrees Fahrenheit—trapped in small classrooms with poor ventilation and little light, he has always directed his professional output towards bettering those conditions.

Benga Riverside School (2018); Tete, Mozambique. (Photo: Francis Kéré, courtesy of The Pritzker Architecture Prize)

 

Kéré’s innovative design for his first professional project, Gando Primary School, combined the sustainable use of indigenous materials with modern engineering to produce a structure “built by and for the people of Gando.” The success of this endeavor earned him the Aga Khan Award for Architecture in 2004 and allowed him to establish his own architecture firm in Berlin called Kéré Architecture, which is why he appreciates the role his community had in helping him reach this height of success. “This is not just a prize for myself,” Kéré relates. “Without having the courage to go back home, and to get my people to join me on the journey to build the school that (launched) my career, this would never have been possible.”[…]

Gando Primary School (2001); Gando, Burkina Faso. (Photo: Erik-Jan Owerkerk, courtesy of The Pritzker Architecture Prize)

Benin National Assembly (In Progress); Porto-Novo, Republic of Benin. (Rendering courtesy of Kéré Architecture / The Pritzker Architecture Prize)

More: Francis Kéré Is First Black Man Awarded Pritzker Architecture Prize

About agogo22

Director of Manchester School of Samba at http://www.sambaman.org.uk
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