Culture & Art

Jul 1, 2017

SUSTAINABLE ARCHITECTURE

It is often said that, once you've been to Africa, you will never be the same again. It is the most genuine continent in the world. That's why sustainability is so important.

Let's take a step half a century back and know about the village of Gando, in Burkina Faso. It's the home town of Diébédo Francis Kéré and it is one of the poorest places in the world. In Gando, villagers still live in small huts made of mud with tin or straw roofs; have literacy levels below the national average of 25%, no access to electricity and little to running water.

Diébédo was born in 1965 and he was the first son of the village chief. As such, he was sent away to school, to learn how to read and write, in the large town of Tenkodogo, at the age of seven.

He completed secondary level in Tenkodogo and, as a good student he was, he received a scholarship from the Carl Duisberg Society, in Germany, to do an apprenticeship as a supervisor in development aid. This course led him to study architecture at the prestigious Technical University of Berlin, from which he graduated in 2004.

And it led him to the decision of giving back to his village something he had learned in Europe. With a group of friends in Germany, Keré set up a fund-raising association called "Schulbausteine für Gando" (School Bricks for Gando, in English).

Having secured finance, he went back to Gando, to start working on the new school, using only local skills, materials and techniques.

At first, the community was very sceptical about the use of clay in the school construction, as clay is perceived as a poor material, unlikely to survive the rainy season. The villagers expected to have a school building in concrete, in the French manner (Burkina Faso, formerly called Republic of Upper Volta, used to be a French colony).

This option turned out to reveal quite clever, for the use of concrete would have been both expensive and highly unsuitable facing to the 40º and over degrees in the summer. Instead, the use of clay was much cheaper, locally available and provided also the involvement of the community.

Every day, the school children had to arrive at school with a big stone on their head. Men and women from the village helped crush the stones to prepare the flooring, collected stones for the foundations and pressed earth into bricks for the school walls, thus reducing radically the huge costs of European engineers and builders.

At the same time, the villagers were also receiving training across a range of construction techniques, developing their own skills and insuring other building jobs for themselves.

The architecture is aesthetically so perfect in its simplicity (bricks and a huge corrugated iron-roof) that it won the Aga Khan award of 2004 and the Swiss BSI Architectural Award in 2010, from the hands of star architect Mario Botta, who addressed these words: "The work of Francis Kéré is not just an aids project, but also a work of high architectural quality with essential elements, the floor, the walls and the roof. So It can be said, that Francis Kéré teaches us a lesson. His architecture remembers its classical meaning which is the protection of men".

The initial project led to a secondary school, a school library, teachers' accommodation, as well as a Mango Tree Project, dedicated to improve the villagers' diets and combat malnutrition.

The uniqueness of Diébédo Francis Kéré work has led him to a broad range of projects throughout the world, including the Centre for Earth Architecture, in Mopti, Northern Mali; the National Park of Mali; the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Museum in Geneva and the Zhou Shan Harbour Development in China.

The "Remdoogo" opera village, in his home country, stretches over a 12-hectare site, with a festival hall and theatre, medical centre, school, guest houses and solar panels.

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