Francis Kéré on March 15 was named the winner of the Pritzker Prize. Kéré, a native of Gando, Burkino Faso, is the first African and the first Black architect to receive the profession’s top award. The designer of the 2017 Serpentine Pavilion and of the Centre for Health and Social Welfare in Burkina Faso’s Opera Village, he is best known for his transcendent use of light in airy structures built from humble materials and evoking West African traditions.
“Francis Kéré is pioneering architecture—sustainable to the earth and its inhabitants—in lands of extreme scarcity,” Tom Pritzker, chairman of the Hyatt Foundation, which sponsors the prize, said in a statement. “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.”
Educated at the Technical University of Berlin, Kéré has largely dedicated his career to the creation of public structures that can be used and enjoyed by the general populace, designing health care facilities, libraries, and schools in the African countries Benin, Burkina Faso, Mali, Togo, Kenya, Mozambique and Sudan. Typically working with limited resources in hot, dry climates, Kéré creates structures of clay-earth brick, resulting in interiors that remain naturally cool, voiding the need for air conditioning. Overhanging corrugated-metal roofs provide shade outdoors.
“His buildings, for and with communities, are directly of those communities — in their making, their materials, their programs and their unique characters,” said the jury, led by this year’s chair, Chilean activist-architect Alejandro Aravena, in a collective statement. “They are tied to the ground on which they sit and to the people who sit within them. They have presence without pretense and an impact shaped by grace.”