Geographies in Depth

The first African and Black winner of the 'Nobel prize for architecture' receives a hero's welcome

Diébédo Francis Kéré, the first African and Black winner of the Pritzker Architecture Prize, stands in his house next to his father's and his daughter's pictures.

Diébédo Francis Kéré, the first African and Black winner of the Pritzker Architecture Prize. Image: REUTERS/Anne Mimault

Thiam Ndiaga
Writer, Forum Agenda
Anne Mimault
Writer, Forum Agenda
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  • Diébédo Francis Kéré has been awarded the Pritzker Architecture Prize, making him the first ever African and Black winner of the prestigious award.
  • Often referred to as the Nobel Prize for architecture, it the highest honour an architect can receive.
  • Kéré is recognized globally for his innovative and sustainable designs.
  • He returned home to Gando in Burkina Faso to celebrate his achievement with his hometown friends and family.

Architect Diébédo Francis Kéré, recognised globally for his innovative, sustainable designs, was feted as a hero in Burkina Faso in June 2022, on his first hometown visit after getting the profession's top award.

From a car sunroof Kéré, the first African and Black winner of the Pritzker Architecture Prize, brandished his gold medal to cheering roadside crowds as he headed to Gando in the dusty southeast corner of the poverty-stricken West African country.

Locals gave him hugs and regaled him with music and dance.

Francis Kéré attends a ceremony that was held by traditional leaders to honor his achievements.
Francis Kéré attends a ceremony that was held by traditional leaders to honour his achievements. Image: REUTERS/Anne Mimault

Gando had no school when Kéré, 57, was growing up. The son of the village chief, he left at a young age to attend school in the nearby town of Tenkodogo and was the first in his community to receive an education.

He returned to visit two schools he designed that were built using local materials and labour, with an emphasis on combatting the region's crippling heat.

Francis Kéré poses for a photograph in his house with his father's and his daughter's pictures.
Francis Kéré poses for a photograph in his house with his father's and his daughter's pictures. Image: REUTERS/Anne Mimault

The buildings' wide, flat roofs are attached to narrower buildings below by a lattice of metal rods that resemble the habit of the acacia trees that dot the surrounding landscape. The generous shade and thick walls keep out the heat.

The secondary school that was built by Francis Kéré in Gando is pictured.
Students attend their final exam at the secondary school that was built by Francis Kéré in Gando. Image: REUTERS/Anne Mimault

"I have a feeling of great gratitude and satisfaction from seeing that all the efforts that we have produced together, the work that we did together, is recognised and the people are proud of it and realise that we did a good job."

Kéré splits his time between Burkina Faso and Germany, where he studied and established his practice.

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The first building he designed was the Gando Primary School. He later added teachers' housing and a library, and the student body has grown to some 700 students.

The library that was built by Francis Kéré in Gando is pictured.
Girls study for their final exam as they sit in front of the library that was built by Francis Kéré in Gando. Image: REUTERS/Anne Mimault

Kéré went on to design schools, health facilities and public spaces across Africa, Europe and the United States.

The Pritzker, often referred to as the Nobel Prize of architecture, has been awarded annually to visionaries such as China-born I.M. Pei, British-Iraqi Zaha Hadid and Renzo Piano of Italy.

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Related topics:
Geographies in DepthEducation and Skills
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