Clay Building Innovation − A German Architect from Burkina Faso (2003)
Francis Kéré knows the country where he builds. His article provides an authentic report on one of the first projects he carried out in his homeland: several teachers’ residences of clay for a school he constructed in 2001. At that time, Burkina Faso had an illiteracy rate of 80 to 90% − reason enough for Kéré to found the association known as Schulbausteine für Gando [Engl.: school building blocks for Gando, now the Kéré Foundation] in order to raise funds for his projects. Back then, thanks to a scholarship, he was still studying at the TU Berlin.
On the edge of the Sahel, life takes place in round huts shared by several generations. Kéré himself has experienced this. Traditionally, the natural materials clay, plant fibres, wood, fieldstones are used, along with roofs of straw. Often, these materials cannot withstand the wind, rain or termites. This is why metal sheeting, steel and cement are considered innovative and are frequently preferred. Counteracting this trend and proving that clay, a local − and free − material can serve well when it is used correctly is Kéré’s groundbreaking achievement, which he describes in his report. His approach involves a return to the roots, but with academic knowledge, creative ideas and proper consideration. The German architect from Africa has won many prizes for his projects, including the 2001 Aga Khan Award. His success is also reflected in a significant media presence. In particular the Opera Village Africa, which was initiated by artist, theatre producer and filmmaker Christoph Schlingensief, won Kéré renown beyond professional circles.
The idea of constructing simple buildings of local materials in the poorer areas of the world has earned recognition in academic surroundings. The many design-build projects now offered at postsecondary institutions are proof of this. Even Francis Kéré occupies a professorship at the Technical University in Munich. This indubitably has to do not only with his body of work, but also with his character: he is a charismatic, eloquent man who shows great enthusiasm for his favourite subjects. That is how things were in 2003, and it is as true now as it was then.