Designing In A Way That Matters

Lauren Schulz, Staff Writer

“Out of all possible people who could have received this award, I think Kéré was one of the best to have won it. He deserves it for his effort, the sustainability of his work, and the amount of thought that went into these builds,” states Allison Holmes, Elkhart High School senior, upon looking into the architect.

To a large majority of people, architecture is astounding, mind-boggling, often strange, and very frequently incredibly confusing. While it is safe to say that the craft is interesting in a variety of ways, for a variety of reasons, most every-day people likely won’t have much of an opinion on the engineering and are very likely to be confused or weirded out by the more-intricate and less-functional pieces that are out there. And, who can really blame them?–all over the world, bland designs and buildings rule the scene, and the more interesting pieces are few and far between, causing them to stick out like a sore thumb at the worst of times. But, what if this architecture was unique in design, style, and looks, as well as fully functional? What if incredible architects focused more on benefitting the people who would have to live around their pieces and less on making oddities that tend to lack functionality? What if an incredible architect were to support the people and place that he had grown up surrounded by and gave back to the community that had done so much for him–not only by providing them with incredible architectural works of art but also other works that may not be as beautiful but serve incredible and important purposes? And, what if such an architect were to be honored for all his incredible, hard work and nominated and the winner of a unique prize that is dedicated to his effort and work?

Meet Francis Kéré, an architect from West Africa who has recently won the Pritzker Prize, which is a prize made for architects and is given to those whose work shows a combination of commitment, talent and vision, and who hasm also, through the art of architecture, made significant contributions to humanity and the environment. “And even after earning international acclaim at exhibitions like the Serpentine Pavilion in London and the Venice Biennale, Kéré has continually directed his attention toward home,” states the New York Times article dedicated to Kéré’s achievement. “It is this devotion to lifting up the community he came from that has helped Kéré, 56, earn the Pritzker Prize, [the] architecture’s highest honor.”

The architectural jury, who agreed and awarded the honor to Kéré, stated in the citation of their nomination: “His buildings, for and with communities, are directly of those communities—in their making, their materials, their programs and their unique characters. They are tied to the ground on which they sit and to the people who sit within them. They have presence without pretense and an impact shaped by grace.” Kéré himself has stated that he was surprised to not only have come to the attention of the jury itself but to have been given their recognition and the award, and mentioned that he had, in fact, been incredibly moved and had cried upon receiving the news. In his words, Kéré has said in a telephone interview: “I still don’t believe. I’ve been pushing this work in architecture to bring good quality architecture to my people.” The New York Times further clarifies that Kéré’s mentioned work has “taken the form of schools, libraries, health care centers and public spaces—often in underserved areas where Kéré makes the most of limited resources and draws on West African traditions,” and that “his projects have been concentrated in Africa, including Benin, Burkina Faso, Mali, Togo, Kenya, Mozambique and Sudan.”

Kéré has stated that he works with what materials are available and on-hand, trying to be as efficient as possible, while pushing for simplicity and easy ability to put things together. A notable instance of Kéré trying to make his work be both sustainable, and efficient, while also working with what he had, Kéré had to implement some way for his Gando Primary School to be cooled in a unique way in the absence of air-conditioning. “Kéré used cement-fortified bricks and an elevated, overhanging roof to counteract conditions of extreme heat and poor lighting. That project increased the school’s student body to 700 students from 120 and led to Kéré’s design for teachers’ housing (2004), an extension (2008) and a library (2019),” states the New York Times. “[In 2021], T Magazine named the primary school one of the 25 most significant buildings built after World War II.” In a similar situation, Kéré, in 2021, utilized the cooling effects of quarry stone and stacked towers to minimize the need to use air conditioning of his now-completed build for Startup Lion Campus—an information and communication technologies complex—in Turkana, Kenya.

“I find it interesting how he goes about his work,” says Holmes, looking further into the architect’s creations. “It’s creative how he works around aspects of general, modern buildings that seem like a common accomidity for people in first-world countries but are likely unavailable for those in third-world countries, such as air conditioning. And, because he works with what is available, it’s likely that resources won’t be wasted and construction may be finished faster as time is not needed to be spent waiting for materials to arrive.”

Tom Pritzker, who is chairman of the Hyatt Foundation and sponsors the Pritzker Prize, has directly stated that 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.” Pritzker also has stated to the press that “[h]e works in marginalized countries laden with constraints and adversity, where architecture and infrastructure are absent. The expression of his works exceeds the value of a building itself.” ​​

It seems that countless people recognize the talent and effort that Kéré has put into his work, in design, structure, efficiency and effectiveness. His work has helped countless people, from his home country of Burkina Faso to several native towns and surrounding cities and countries, all the way to even California, “helping” by designing and creating 12 screen-covered, triangle-shaped and colorful towers for the Coachella music festival in 2019. He is an undeniably hard worker, whose works are as incredible as they are useful, fun, and/or helpful. “I quite like his work,” includes Holmes, after she reviewed the variety of creations that Kéré has set his mind to making. “They’re fun, interesting, and seem like the starting building-blocks towards a world and construction where we actively try to be more eco-friendly and -conscious, and face modern problems with natural and environmentally-friendly solutions.”

Easily, he is one of the most fitting candidates for the Pritzker Prize, and it would be hard to deny that he is not one of the most deserving of that honor. Only time can tell what else Francis Kéré may create in his continued time as an architect, and one can only hope that he will produce even bigger, better, and more incredible works in the future that will continue to help those who need it, remain efficient and sustainable to the Earth and its people, and also be just as whimsical and incredible as all his works before.