Diebedo Francis Kere has become the first African to win the Pritzker Architecture Prize, with the Burkina Faso native awarded the prize after many years designing structures across the world.

The 51st recipient of the prize, Kere received international acclaim in 2001, when he constructed a school in his local village in Gando. Bucking the stylistic trend of concrete pavilions, Kere opted to build the school out of clay and cement, which meant cooler air would circulate within the walls. The school was topped with a tin roof, preventing rain without compromising air circulation.

Creating a number of schools in an abundance of African countries, Kere was also the first African architect to design London Hyde Park’s Serpentine Pavilion in 2017, as well as being involved in the creation of Geneva’s International Red Cross and Red Crescent Museum. 

Kere says he was the happiest man in the world upon hearing the news.

“I grew up in a community where there was no kindergarten, but where the community was your family. Everyone took care of you and the entire village was your playground. My days were filled with securing food and water, but also simply being together, talking together, building houses together. I remember the room where my grandmother would sit and tell stories with a little light, while we would huddle close to each other and her voice inside the room enclosed us, summoning us to come closer and form a safe place. This was my first sense of architecture.”

“Good architecture in Burkina Faso is a classroom where you can sit, have light that is filtered, entering the way that you want to use it, across a blackboard or on a desk. How can we take away the heat coming from the sun, but use the light to our benefit? Creating climate conditions to give basic comfort allows for true teaching, learning and excitement.”

Thomas Pritzker, Chairman of award sponsors the Hyatt Foundation, was glowing in his praise of Kere.

“Francis Kere is pioneering architecture - sustainable to the earth and its inhabitants – in lands of extreme scarcity. 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,” he says. 

“Through buildings that demonstrate beauty, modesty, boldness and invention, and by the integrity of his architecture and geste, Kere gracefully upholds the mission of this Prize.”

Kere says he believes architecture should not be confined to those who can afford it.

"I am totally convinced that everyone deserves quality. I'm always thinking how can I get the best for my clients, for those who can afford but also for those who can not afford.

"This is my way of doing things, of using my architecture to create structures to serve people, let's say to serve humanity."


Images: Pritzker Prize