Without any iota of doubt, Africa is blessed with quite large numbers of talented individuals. The continent has in it so many ‘firsts for African’. However, Francis Kere has just made one of those firsts; he has become the first African architect to design London’s prestigious Serpentine Pavilion which has become a global architectural and design event.
Since 2000, the Serpentine Gallery has commissioned a temporary structure from one of the world’s best architects, to be erected in London’s Kensington Gardens over the summer.
That is to say that the Burkinabe architect, Francis Kere, is considered one of the best in the world. Francis Kere wants to use his pavilion design as a platform to discuss the impact of climate change and humanity’s communal responsibility to preserve the natural environment and he managed to speak a lot about his home country while doing so.
With his design this year, Kere has joined a prestigious list of pavilion architects that include trailblazing British-Iraqi architect Zaha Hadid and veteran French architect Jean Nouvel.
He took advantage of the great honor to bring to the London garden a sense of the cultural identity and historical perspective that he represents.
What is Francis Kere’s story?
Kere grew up in Gando in Burkina Faso. He was the son of the village chief which gave him an opportunity to attend school in the city, and later win a scholarship to study in Germany.
Whilst growing up he encountered in many ways the effects of the encroaching Sahara desert and this made him aware of the human impact of climate change. This would cause him to focus on environmental sustainability when he became an architect.
He graduated from the Technical University of Berlin and has ever since then built a reputation for designing sparing structures in Burkina Faso, using mud bricks and lightweight steel frames.
The buildings that he designed in Burkina Faso were often built by unskilled labor with elegant economy and he says that he has used the same principles for his Serpentine Pavilion design.
According to him, his design of this year’s pavilion was also inspired by his childhood realities;
“Coming from a continent like Africa, I am accustomed to being confronted with climate and natural landscape as a harsh reality,”
“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 them to connect with each other.”
“I was inspired by the big tree in my native village of Gando. The community always gathers in its shade. I wanted to create a place that would encourage people to come together, with spaces where you feel enclosed and protected, or choose to look out to the park.”
His pavilion design is indeed a masterpiece. The center of the canopy has a large opening that acts as a funnel, collecting water when it rains.