Ongolo Proud African

Kéré named first black and African Pritzker laureate

Author: Muloongo Muchelemba
23 March 2022

Francis Kéré was named the winner of the 2022 Pritzker Architecture Prize on 15 March 2022, joining other celebrated laureates such as I.M. Pei (1983) and the first female winner, Zaha Hadid (2004). The 56-year-old native of Burkina Faso made history when he became the first black architect and first African to win the prestigious “Nobel Prize” of Architecture. The Burkinabè architect developed a reputation for putting sustainability at the heart of his designs long before it became a trend.

Humble beginnings that influenced Kéré's architectural style

Burkina Faso on a vintage political map of Africa
Burkina Faso on a vintage political map of Africa

Diébédo Francis Kéré was born on 10 April 1965 in a small village called Gando in Burkina Faso. The eldest son of the village chief, he was the first person in his family to attend school and took lessons in a poorly ventilated and badly lit classroom. It has been reported that he vowed to do something to improve the lives of his community.

In 1985, he won a scholarship to learn how to make furniture at a carpentry school in Berlin, Germany and attended night school to complete his secondary education. He won another scholarship to study architecture at the Technische Universität Berlin and graduated in 2004 at the age of 39.

It was while he was studying for his architectural degree that he honoured the promise to give back to Gando. He started raising £20,000 to build a primary school in 1998, which was completed in 2001 with the help of the village community who provided the labour. The building was made from clay-earth brick walls and had a perforated ceiling, which provided a natural cooling mechanism by letting out the hot air.

The building put Kéré on the world map when it won the 2004 Aga Khan Award for Architecture.

Kéré has developed an extensive portfolio

Kéré founded the Berlin-based Kéré Architecture in 2005 and has worked on numerous high-profile projects across Africa including the National Park of Mali and the Benin National Assembly, which is still under construction. He has designed a women’s health centre, central market and, a higher education facility in his home country.

The 17th temporary Serpentine annual Summer Pavilion is designed this year by African architect Francis Kéré
The 17th temporary Serpentine annual Summer Pavilion is designed this year by African architect Francis Kéré

Kéré also gained international acclaim with projects such as the 2017 Serpentine Pavilion in Kensington Gardens, London; the 2019 Xylem in Montana, United States; and the temporary art installation at the 2019 Coachella.

What is next for Francis Kéré?

Just as Pei’s career exploded after he won the Pritzker prize in 1983, Kéré can expect to be in high demand going forward. The world has finally caught up with his forward-thinking architectural style of using traditional and sustainable materials.

He will also continue to be an inspiration for other black and African architects who dare to dream to be great.

Congratulations to this proud son of Africa on this well-deserved award!