Black Excellence: Diébédo Francis Kéré Makes History As He Becomes The First African To Win Architecture’s Highest Award

by Duke Magazine

Diébédo Francis Kéré, a Faso-born architect, received the Pritzker Prize, architecture’s highest honor, on Tuesday. In the award’s 43-year history, he is the first African to receive it.

The 56-year-old, who holds dual citizenship in Burkina Faso and Germany, was honored for his groundbreaking designs that are “sustainable to the planet and its inhabitants – in places of extreme scarcity,” according to Tom Pritzker, chairman of the Hyatt Foundation, which sponsors the award.

Kéré described himself as the “happiest guy on the globe” after winning the prize, which is known as the “Nobel of architecture.”

“I have an incredible sense of dignity as well as a sense of responsibility,” he told AFP in Berlin.

In 2017, the award-winning architect from Gando, Burkina Faso, was the first African to design the iconic Serpentine Pavilion in Kensington Gardens, Hyde Park, London. The Serpentine Gallery Pavilion is a temporary structure constructed by a renowned architect each year.

Kéré is the son of a tribal leader and a graduate of Berlin’s Technical University, where he majored in Architecture. He was also trained as a carpenter, and at the age of 18, he was awarded a scholarship to study woodwork in Germany, where he discovered his passion for architecture and switched careers. Kéré is primarily located in Berlin, Germany, where he founded his firm, Kéré Architecture, in 2005. He has been a visiting professor at Harvard University Graduate School of Design.

He is also actively involved in development efforts in his hometown, and in 1998, he assisted in the construction of public school buildings in Burkina Faso utilizing locally accessible materials and personnel in an environmentally sustainable manner. He’s also responsible for the construction of schools, homes, health facilities, civic structures, and public spaces in countries across Africa, including Burkina Faso, Mali, Benin, Togo, Sudan, Kenya, and Mozambique.

The permanent exhibition space at the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Museum in Geneva, Switzerland; the Zhou Shan Harbour Development in China; and the National Park in Bamako, Mali are among the architect’s other notable works. The Aga Khan Award for Architecture and the Global Award for Sustainable Architecture are two awards he has received.

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“I am fully convinced that everyone deserves quality,” he told AFP after earning the illustrious Pritzker Prize. “I’m always thinking about how I can provide the best for my clients, both those who can afford it and those who can’t.”

“This is my way of doing things,” he explained, “of using my architecture to create structures to serve people, to serve mankind.”

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