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For the first time, the profession’s biggest prize goes to an African, someone whose village origins help define new ideas in building design.
Courtesy of Erik-Jan Owerkerk and Pritzker Architectural Prize Gando Primary School
March 18, 2022
As in many professions, architects are hunting for new ways of thinking to help solve the climate crisis. Material solutions in building design, such as recycled steel or reflective paint, are fine but finite in their influence. Their efforts received a boost this week after the annual Pritzker Prize, otherwise known as the Nobel Prize for architecture, was awarded to someone who brings “brilliant, inspiring and game-changing ways” toward sustainability in structures.
He is Francis Kéré, the first African to win the prize and whose origin from a small village in the heart of the Sahel in Burkina Faso accounts for his refreshing approach in a profession still famous for grand cultural icons than for environmental leadership.
“He knows, from within, that architecture is not about the object but the objective; not the product, but the process,” reads the Pritzker jury’s citation.
His early fame came in helping design a school in his village after an education in Germany. He let the whole village participate in the design, drawn on sand for all to see. Then he enlisted them to construct the Gando Primary School, using local wood to compact the stone floors and local clay to make bricks mixed with cement. The people learned skills that they could later use to find work, showing that good architecture can transmit ideas widely.
The result was a welcoming structure with a “floating” roof that allows passive ventilation in a hot climate and wall openings that bring filtered light for students to learn even without electricity. The school’s design is also a work of art built on vernacular motifs. “Everyone has the right to beauty; it should be a human right!” Mr. Kéré told Radio France Internationale.
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