In Africa: Diébédo Francis Kéré

The Burkina-Faso-born architect Diébédo Francis Kéré builds with local, but innovative materials, as he experiments with open structures that correspond to the climate conditions of the African continent.

The work of architect Diébédo Francis Kéré is stunning in its use of materials, as in structure corresponding to climate and the user needs. His work makes use of local materials, while experimenting with open structures that are appropriate to the local climate conditions. That his design principles also apply to moderate climate zones, was revealed his 2017 pavilion for the Serpentine Gallery in London.

Gando Primary School

Kéré’s first building was a primary school in his hometown Gando, which has been recognized nationally and internationally with awards including the Aga Khan Award for Architecture (2004). For the design he modified and modernized traditional clay-building techniques in order to create a more structurally robust construction in the form of bricks. 

Lycée Schorge Secondary School

Located in the third most populated city in Burkina Faso, the Lycée Schorge Secondary School not only sets a new standard for educational excellence in the region, it also provides a source of inspiration by showcasing locally-sourced building materials in an innovative and modern way.

The walls of these modules are made from locally-harvested laterite stone, which, when first extracted from the earth, can be easily cut and shaped into bricks. When the stone is left exposed to the atmosphere above ground, it begins to harden. The material functions really well as a wall system for the classrooms because of its thermal mass capabilities. This, in combination with the unique wind-catching towers and overhanging roofs, lowers the temperature of the interior spaces exponentially.

Another major factor that helps naturally ventilate and illuminate the interiors is a massive undulating ceiling. The wave-like pattern of plaster and concrete components are slightly offset from each other, allowing the interior space to breathe and expel hot stagnant air. The off-white color of the ceiling serves to diffuse and spread around indirect daylight, providing ample illumination during the day while keeping the interior learning space protected from direct solar heat gain.

Creating a sort of autonomous ‘village’ condition, the radial layout of the classroom modules is wrapped around a central public courtyard. This configuration not only creates privacy from the main public domain, it also shelters and protects the inner courtyard from wind and dust. An ampitheater-like condition at the center of the courtyard will accommodate informal gatherings as well as formal assemblies and celebrations for the school and community as a whole.

Overall, one of the most important goals of the design is to serve as a catalyst for inspiration for the students, teaching staff, and surrounding community members. The architecture not only functions as a marker in the landscape, it is also a testament to how local materials, in combination with creativity and team-work, can be transformed into something significant with profound lasting effects.

Serpentine Pavilion

Taking inspiration from the great tree in his hometown of Gando, Burkina Faso, where members of the community often meet to reflect about the day, Kéré’s 2017 Serpentine Pavilion design was based on creating this sense of community while connecting people with nature.

“The tree was always the most important place in my village,” he says, describing the inspiration for his design. “It is where people come together under the shade of its branches to discuss, a place to decide matters, about love, about life. I want the pavilion to serve the same function: a simple open shelter to create a sense of freedom and community.”

A great over-hanging roof canopy made of steel and a transparent skin covers the entire footprint of the Pavilion, allowing sunlight to enter the space while also protecting it from the rain. Wooden shading elements line the underside of the roof, creating a dynamic shadow effect that changes with the movement of the sun and clouds.