Burkina Faso-born architect Diébédo Francis Kéré was on Tuesday awarded the Pritzker Prize, architecture’s most prestigious award. This makes him the first African to win the award in its 43-year history.
The 56-year-old, who is a dual citizen of Burkina Faso and Germany, was celebrated 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 that sponsors the award, said in a statement cited by AFP.
Kéré said he was the “happiest man on this planet” to win the prize, usually dubbed the “Nobel of architecture”.
“I have a feeling of an overwhelming honor but also a sense of responsibility,” he told AFP in Berlin.
The award-winning architect from Gando, Burkina Faso, became the first African architect to design the prestigious Serpentine Pavilion in Kensington Gardens, Hyde Park, Central London in 2017. The Serpentine Gallery Pavilion is a temporary building designed annually by a leading architect.
The son of a tribal chief, Kéré is a graduate of the Technical University of Berlin, where he studied Architecture. He also received training as a carpenter, and by 18, won a scholarship to study woodwork in Germany, where he discovered his love for architecture and switched over from carpentry. Kéré, who has been a visiting professor at the Harvard University Graduate School of Design, is mostly based in Berlin, Germany, where he established his practice, Kéré Architecture, in 2005.
He is also very involved in the developmental efforts taking place in his homeland, and in 1998, he helped construct public school buildings in Burkina Faso using locally available materials and manpower with an ecologically sustainable approach. He has also built schools, housing, health facilities, and is behind civic buildings and public spaces across Africa, including his country Burkina Faso, Mali, Benin, Togo, Sudan, Kenya, and Mozambique.
Some of the architect’s other important works include the permanent exhibition space at the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Museum, Geneva, Switzerland; the Zhou Shan Harbour Development, China, and the National Park, Bamako, Mali. He is a winner of the Aga Khan Award for Architecture and the Global Award for Sustainable Architecture.
“I am totally convinced that everyone deserves quality,” he told AFP after receiving the illustrious Pritzker Prize. “I’m always thinking how can I get the best for my clients, for those who can afford but also for those who cannot afford.
“This is my way of doing things, of using my architecture to create structures to serve people, let’s say to serve humanity,” he said.