Meet Diébédo Francis Kéré, the first Black architect to win the Pritzker Prize in its 43-year history

Ben Ebuka January 24, 2023
Francis Kéré. Photo credit: Erik Petersen, Courtesy of Tippet Rise Center

From a poor and humble beginning, Diébédo Francis Kéré became an award-winning international architect renowned for his innovative, sustainable, and spectacular building structures and designs. In 2022, Francis Kéré became the first Black person to receive the prestigious Pritzker Prize, referred to often as the “Nobel Prize” for Architecture.

Born on April 10, 1965, in Gando, Boulgou Province in Upper Volta (present-day Burkina Faso), Francis Kéré became the first child in his village to attend school as his father, the village Chief at that time, wanted his eldest son to learn how to read, write, and translate letters for him.

Since there was no school in Gando, Kéré traveled to the city at seven years old to live with his uncle. He became a carpenter after he finished school. Luckily for him, he gained a scholarship from the Carl Duisberg Society for an apprentice program in Germany that changed his life. He completed the apprenticeship and enrolled in the Technical University of Berlin to study architecture, where he earned a degree in 2014.

His love for his childhood community remained indelible, and throughout his studies, he nurtured the zeal to develop his village and create opportunities for others. In 1998, while still studying, he established Schulbausteine für Gando e.V, translated loosely as ‘building blocks for Gando’ (known this day as Kéré Foundation). He started fundraising to advocate for the children in his community to have a better environment, culminating in his first building construction of a primary school in his hometown while still enrolled at the Technical University of Berlin.

Using his skills, knowledge, and experience, he mobilized his labor and materials from his community to build a school he never had while in Gando. The gift to his local community gave him the Aga Khan Award for Architecture in 2004 and spurred him to establish his firm ‘Kere Architecture’ in 2005 in Berlin, Germany.

In 2011, Kéré began the construction of Gando Secondary School, a building complex designed to accommodate about 1000 students. To this day, Francis Kéré has constructed more community projects in Gando and hopes to give back more to his people.

Meet Diébédo Francis Kéré, the first Black architect to win the Pritzker Prize in its 43-year history
Village Opera @ Francis Kéré (8)

Over the span of his career, Kéré has constructed 61 projects comprised of 37 buildings, 19 designs, and 5 knowledge creations. Some of the projects include the Mali National Park, Léo Surgical Clinic and Health Center (Burkina Faso), Serpentine Pavilion (London), Xylem Pavilion (USA), Burkina Faso National Assembly, Benin National Assembly, and many more. He is renowned for using local resources in his construction projects and has won several awards.

Francis Kéré has lectured in several schools, including the Technical University of Berlin, Washington University, University of Texas, University of Wisconsin, Harvard University, Technical University of Munich, Yale School of Architecture, and Bauhaus University in Germany.

He was named one of the 100 Most Influential Africans by the New African Magazine.

At the intersection of utopia and pragmatism we create contemporary architecture that feeds the imagination with an afro-futurist vision. Informed by tradition, our practice explores new modes of construction for which the foundations have long been laid. Innovative uses of local resources and participatory design methods allow us to work beyond the boundaries of most established design practices and shed dominant norms to set our own precedents.” – Kéré Architecture.

Last Edited by:Mildred Europa Taylor Updated: January 25, 2023


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