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Class of 1965, Francis Diébédo Kéré was born in the village of Gando, in Burkina Faso. Thanks to a scholarship provided by the German Government, he moved to Berlin and graduated in architecture. His first job was for the primary school in Gando, which he planned when still a student. The accomplishment of this project earned him in 2004 an Aga Khan Award for Architecture other that the BSI Award for Architecture, conferred to him last November 17th. Today Kéré is an internationally renowned architect. We met him at the Accademia di Architettura in Mendrisio, on the occasion of the award ...
Published on Thursday, December the 9th, 2010
Meschac Gaba told us that, in Africa, behind every work lurks a story. It seems to be the case for your projects also, especially those you realized in Burkina Faso ...

When we were building the school of Gando, after days and days of work we finally finished the walls, 2 meters high. That night it rained incessantly. The next morning I was in the yard of my house when I saw the village women arriving: there were many, followed by men and children. They wanted to comfort me, thinking I was sad since in Burkina Faso rain is devastating and it destroys the buildings that have not been terminated. Those people had not even thought of passing from the school, because from experience they just knew that the rain would have damaged the whole structure. Later other people arrived, restless, they had gone to school and seen that it had not collapsed. The joy and amazement emerged from their looks, from their expressions. That's something I'll never forget.

And then?
As we finished building the school, people were very happy and everyone said it was such a beautiful building. An elder of the village wanted me to go and see him, he was sick. I went to his house and he explained that he called me since his backyard view of the school was exceptional and the perspective, perfect. It was true, but the reality is, that he never saw the school, even from his backyard, since he was blind. He made himself an idea of the school through the grapevine, and he imagined it being beautiful. It was his way of showing me his appreciation for our work. Working in Africa is very demanding, there is always plenty to do, itís a continent filled with an enormous energy, which is contagious. Every time I return to Europe I feel like Iím a new person again.

Diébédo Francis KéréWhen people were faced with a building so different from those to which they were accustomed, did they sense a feel of strangeness towards the project?
People were a little perplexed when I told them that we would have built on the ground, they feared that it would have been not so durable. Although it is a very different building from their standards, nevertheless the school was built thanks to their participation. It belongs to them and it has immediately become part of the village.

Mali, like many African countries, this year celebrates the 50th anniversary of its independence. The National Park has been reopened to celebrate the occasion. On which projects did you collaborate?
I designed all the buildings: the entrance hall, the restaurant, the Sports Centre.

Tell us about the Sports Centre.
Itís designed as a multifunctional centre, a meeting place. With traditional African dance classes for adults, kids can train in sport, but there will also be a space dedicated to the elderly. Also this structure is very much loved by people. His Highness the Aga Khan inaugurated it and was very proud of the project.

Did the Aga Khan finance it?
Yes. The Aga Khan appreciated the project because of its contemporary architecture style mixed with typically African features. As I said, it was an important work, which gave employment to approximately 80 young people.

In June you will start a new job in Genevaís Red Cross Museum, with the theme Reconstruct Family Ties: what about this project?
In Africa people are forced to move a lot. Parents are often separated from their children, for many reasons. They are sometime forced to embark clandestinely and go elsewhere, then they lose track with members of the family. The destruction of families is a real plague in Africa. I will work with the ground, a natural element that belongs to everyone. It is going to be a sculptural work, which details are not yet defined. The most fascinating element is the fact of working with two great architects: Gringo Cardia, Brazilian, confronts the theme Defending Human Dignity, and the Japanese architect Shigeru Ban will do a reflection on the idea of Refusing The Fatality. Personally, I think that this is a theme that somehow we have already discussed in a symposium in Fuerte Ventura. Clearly, this showed the need to create a cultural debate around issues such as migration, marginalisation, the birth of ghetto. When people visit another country, often illegally, this creates an inconvenience. Now we can do nothing but deal with it.

La scuola di Gando progettata da Francis Kéré
This same topic was raised, even if differently, by Paul Virilio, particularly at an exhibition at Fondation Cartier in whichVirilio, along with Raymond Depardon, 
presented an exhibition entitled Terre di Natale. The philosopher and urban planner said that, in 2008, 36 million people had fled their birthplace to relocate to another city or country. The 21st century, continued Virilio, will be the century of the great migration: a billion people are expected to leave their homeland over the next fifty years...

This problem also concerns architecture. One of the possible questions is: what will the city of the future be like? And again: how will these people live, will they be integrated or will they live in ghettos? These are questions that require, as I said, a clear answer and quickly enough. What we've done at Gando is somehow an answer, albeit insufficient. Many people who have worked on these two projects at the school have learned a profession and can now find a job in other countries or remain at Gando. But it is only a beginning.

Mario Botta, jury member of BSI Award Architecture, in delivering the prize has stated that "poor architecture has beaten rich architecture" and that "through your work lies the rediscovery of the deeper meaning of doing": itís a nice compliment ... What characterizes your way of working?
My works are made for people: I look at their lives, I observe their gestures. I learn from them.

Francis Kéré e l'Africa
The BSI Award for Architecture is worth 100,000 Swiss francs. What will you do with this money?

I want to build a Centre for women in Gando, itís going to be a polyvalent space. Obviously this sum is not enough to cover the costs involved in such a project.

How much money should be invested?
At least 800,000 Euros, but today it is not so difficult to find them.

by riccarda mandrini



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