Diebedo Francis Kere is first black architect to win Pritzker Prize

The Burkina Faso-born pioneer is the only African to have bagged the prestigious award

Burkinabe architect Diebedo Francis Kere is the first African and black person to win the prestigious prize, which has been awarded annually since 1979. AFP
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The Pritzker Prize, architecture's most prestigious award, was presented on Tuesday to Burkina Faso-born architect Diebedo Francis Kere, the first African to win the honour in its more than 40-year history.

Kere, 56, was hailed for his "pioneering" designs that are "sustainable to the Earth and its inhabitants — in lands of extreme scarcity", Tom Pritzker, chairman of The Hyatt Foundation, which sponsors the award, said.

Kere, a dual citizen of Burkina Faso and Germany, is the 51st recipient of the illustrious prize since it was first awarded in 1979.

Quote
It is not because you are rich that you should waste material. It is not because you are poor that you should not try to create quality
Diebedo Francis Kere, architect

He is renowned for building schools, health facilities, housing, civic buildings and public spaces across Africa, including in Benin, Burkina Faso, Mali, Togo, Kenya, Mozambique and Sudan.

"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," said Pritzker.

Kere won plaudits for his 2001 project for a primary school in Gando village, Burkina Faso, where he was born.

Unlike traditional school buildings, which were built with concrete, Kere's innovative design used local clay fortified with cement to form bricks that helped retain cooler air inside.

Diebedo Francis Kere with his installation at the Royal Academy of Arts, London, for the Sensing Spaces: Architecture Reimagined exhibition in 2014. AFP

A wide, raised tin roof protects the building from rains while helping the air circulate, meaning natural ventilation without any need for air-conditioning.

Kere engaged the local community during the design and building phase, and the number of students at the school increased from 120 to 700, The Hyatt Foundation said.

The success of the project led to the creation of an extension, a library and teachers' housing in later years.

'Natural climate'

Kere "empowers and transforms communities through the process of architecture", designing buildings "where resources are fragile and fellowship is vital".

"Through his commitment to social justice and engagement, and intelligent use of local materials to connect and respond to the natural climate, he works in marginalised countries laden with constraints and adversity," the organisers said.

Kere was also one of the architects behind Geneva's International Red Cross and Red Crescent Museum.

In 2017, he became the first African architect to design the Serpentine Pavilion in London's Hyde Park, a prestigious assignment given to a world-famous architect every year.

Kere has also held solo museum shows in Munich and Philadelphia.

Kere said he was "hoping to change the paradigm, push people to dream and undergo risk".

"It is not because you are rich that you should waste material. It is not because you are poor that you should not try to create quality," he said.

"Everyone deserves quality, everyone deserves luxury, and everyone deserves comfort. We are interlinked and concerns in climate, democracy and scarcity are concerns for us all."

Updated: March 16, 2022, 8:32 AM