Diebedo Franz Kere wins 2022 Pritzker Architecture Prize

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Written By Jim J Neal

Photo by Iwan BaanDiebedo Franz Kere. The Berlin- and Burkina Faso-based architect, best known for creating structures that are both beautiful and socially responsible, was named the 2022 Pritzker Architecture Prize winner. This honor is considered the Nobel Prize in architecture.
Kere’s fame has grown over the years for his projects in Burkina Faso, his home country. It is one of the poorest nations in the world. The projects, created by his firm Kere Architecture and often backed by his eponymous foundation, are characterized by humble materials, graceful-yet-innovative forms, and community involvement.

Kere, Diebedo Francis KereCourtesy Francis Kere “I want to change the paradigm and push people to dream big and take risks,” Kere stated in the prize announcement. “It’s not because you’re rich that you shouldn’t waste material. You don’t have to waste material just because you are poor.
Kere, the son and chief of the village, was born in Gando in Burkina Faso in 1965. Kere, a young man from the village, was sent to study in a nearby town because there wasn’t a school. Even then, the concrete block building was dark and lacked light. Kere, then 20, moved to Berlin to pursue a scholarship in carpentry and furniture design. Later, he was awarded a scholarship for architecture studies at Technische Universitat Berlin. Kere did not forget his home village. “I wanted to use my skills to build a school.

The Gando Primary school. Courtesy Erik-Jan OuwerkerkKere raised $50,000 through donations from fellow architects and returned to Gando to build the school he had always dreamed about. This was his most significant and important project. Kere designed a structure using pressed-clay blocks with an elevated roof system for natural ventilation. This was so local children could enjoy a pleasant learning environment, even though it is in a region that can reach 110 degrees Fahrenheit.

Kere is well-known for his civic work, such as the Lycee Schorge Secondary school (2016) in Koudougou (Burkina Faso). The success of this project–the student population grew from 120 to 700 in the following years. In 2004, the Aga Khan awarded the building a prestigious Aga Kan award. This led to many other projects in the village including an extension to the original building and a library that used local clay pots to build a roof with a constellation of oculi. They were all built in collaboration with the Gando residents.
In its citation, the Pritzker Prize jury commented that “He knows from within that architecture isn’t about the object but what the objective; and not the product but the process.” “Francis Kere’s entire body shows us the power and place-rooted materiality.”

Sarbale Ke is a temporary installation for Coachella. Photo courtesy of Iwan Baskere. While his company continued to build throughout Burkina Faso (including the Center for Health and Social Welfare, Laongo) and the Lycee Schorge Secondary School, Koudougou (2016)), they also started to concentrate on other buildings, such as the 2017 Serpentine Pavilion, which was a temporary structure that London’s Serpentine Gallery commissioned each year. The project included walls of indigo blocks in a woven pattern similar to Kere’s traditional clothes. It was covered by a roof that sprouted from a central, trunk-like structure. Kere’s company also designed temporary structures for Coachella in 2019. The firm is currently working to build parliament buildings in Burkina Faso, Benin and a Kenyan tech campus.
“Everyone deserves quality, everyone deserves luxury, and everyone deserves comfort,” Kere said. “We are all interconnected, and concerns about climate, democracy, scarcity, and other issues are concerning for us all.”
Anna FixsenDeputy digital editorAnna Fixsen is ELLE DECOR’s Deputy Digital Editor. She focuses on sharing the best of design through online storytelling and in-depth reporting.

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