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Meet Francis Kere, The First African Architect to Design the Serpentine Pavilion

Diébédo Francis Kere, the first African architect chosen to design the annual Serpentine gallery pavilion, plans to take one of his characteristically stripped-back structures honed in the villages of Burkino Faso to West London.

“The tree was always the most important place in my village,” he says, describing the inspiration for his design. “It is where people come together under the shade of its branches to discuss, a place to decide matters, about love, about life. I want the pavilion to serve the same function: a simple open shelter to create a sense of freedom and community.” Diébédo Francis Kere said.

Kéré creates appeal where others find simplicity, preferring economical buildings to lavish skyscrapers.

Born and raised in Gando, eastern Burkina Faso, he won a scholarship to study in Berlin where he stayed and established his studio.
He’s spent the past 15 years forcefully changing Africa’s architectural landscape with radically ‘green’ buildings often built pro bono on low cost sustainable materials.
Now, he’s turning his attention to Europe, first with the Pavilion and next year a mobile theater in Berlin.
Entirely constructed from wood, his inspiration for the Pavilion stem from the hot climate of his roots, underpinned with a celebration of British weather.
Rainwater is drained through a central opening in the roof to create a ‘waterfall effect’ before passing under a hidden drainage system.
The curved wood walls of the structure painted in indigo blue mimic the festive clothing worn by Burkinabe youths during celebrations.
“I’ve been working for so long in architecture and now suddenly I have a chance to demonstrate my work in London,” says Kéré. “I was said to myself hey you have to wear your best clothes.”

The Pavilion’s central aperture creates an immediate connection to nature, according to Kéré. While air circulates freely and light streams through the steel-framed structure on sunny days, the roof’s oculus will also create a waterfall effect inside the structure on rainy days before filtering into a drainage system hidden underground.

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“In Burkina Faso, I am accustomed to being confronted with climate and natural landscape as a harsh reality,” he said. “For this reason, I was interested in how my contribution to this Royal park could not only enhance the visitor’s experience of nature, but also provoke a new way for people to connect with each other.”

At night, the Pavilion’s walls become a source of illumination as small gaps showcase the light from movement and activity inside.

See related images

Gando Primary School Extension via Kéré Architecture

Kéré leads the Berlin-based architecture firm Kéré Architecture, where he focuses on socially engaged and ecological design. The award-winning architect is most well-known for his characteristically stripped-back structures and his use of community capacity-building through architecture.

His work — including built, in-design and under-construction projects — includes a primary school in Burkina Faso, an educational campus in Kenya and an “opera village” in Laongo. In 2014, his projects were presented in the Royal Academy’s “Sensing Spaces” exhibition, the 2015 Chicago Biennial and the 2016 Venice Biennale where he showcased a new national parliament building for his native country.

Since 2000, the Serpentine Galleries has invited architects to create a temporary pavilion each year, giving them the opportunity to create their first built projects in England. Last year’s “unzipped wall” by Danish architect Bjarke Ingels received record attendance.

Kéré’s design for the Serpentine Pavilion 2017 will be open from June 23 to Oct. 8.

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Written by PH

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