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Inspirational Creators: Diébédo Francis Kéré, Architect

May 2005

“A structure of grace, warmth and sophistication, in sympathy with the local climate and culture. The practical and the poetic are fused. [It] inspires pride and instills hope in its community, laying the foundations for the advancement of a people.”

This tribute from the jury of the prestigious Aga Khan Award for Architecture captures both the architectural and socially transformative beauty of a low cost village school, designed and built from local materials by a young architect from Burkina Faso. Diébédo Francis Kéré’s story is inspiring. It tells of one man’s creative ability, enabled through his education, fired by his sense of social responsibility, and shared to create new opportunities for the future of an entire community.

There was no local school when Mr. Kéré was growing up in Gando, a remote village of some 3,000 inhabitants in one of the world’s poorest countries. The son of the village headman, he already had instilled in him a keen sense of responsibility when his family sent him away to school at the tender age of seven. He did not disappoint them. After winning a scholarship from the German government to study in Germany, he became the first inhabitant of Gando to earn a university degree.

School bricks for Gando

While still studying for his architecture degree at Berlin Technical University, Mr. Kéré learned that the flimsy school building which had been erected in Gando some years previously was on the point of collapse. Determined to share with his community the advantages that education had given him, Mr. Kéré launched the School Bricks for Gando project and set about raising the US$30,000 funding needed to build a school.

Construction began in 2000. Mr. Kéré’s approach to the project brought together intelligent architectural design, local materials and the involvement of the whole community. “This was much more than just a building project,” the soft-spoken young architect told WIPO Magazine. “It was a labour of love. It was based on shared discovery between myself and the villagers, on creating something in which the whole community could take pride.” Mr. Kéré trained local men in the techniques of building with compressed earth blocks. Village children proudly insisted on carrying mud and stones to the site. Women produced traditional clay flour. “The laying of a stamped floor was an unforgettable experience,” he recalls.

Architecture for sustainable development

Guided by principles of sustainable development, Mr. Kéré placed importance on the use of clay as one of the main building materials. Clay, explains Mr. Kéré, has become known as “the material of the poor.” It is cheap and readily available, but used in traditional building methods it is unstable and performs poorly compared to more expensive, imported materials. The Gando School project taught the local people how to refine the clay and local materials, and how different construction techniques could further improve the performance of these materials.

Natural ventilation methods and compressed earth walls help to keep classrooms cool in the beating sun. (Courtesy of the Aga Khan Award for Architecture)

The roof posed a conundrum, as there was no money to hire or transport a crane. To solve the problem Mr. Kéré designed an innovative roof structure composed of long, curved sheets of corrugated tin and steel rebars, which the workers were able to erect by hand.

The structure of the building was designed to be aesthetically uplifting, while at the same time optimizing protection from the harsh climatic conditions. Steel supports lift the roof structure above the ceiling, creating spaces through which cooling air flows freely. The walls are shaded from both sun and torrential rain by the overhanging roof, which also provides covered areas for the recreation periods. The densely packed earth blocks of the walls and ceiling help to moderate the room temperature. Elegantly simple slats at the windows combine shade and ventilation.

"From the classrooms of today will come the entrepreneurs, the scientists, the designers, the artists of tomorrow." - WIPO Director General Kamil Idris, in his World IP Day message.

Multiplier effect

Opened in 2001, the school now counts more than 300 pupils. Impressed by the building, the local government readily agreed to fund teachers’ salaries. The construction of teachers’ accommodations, of a standard to match the school building, is underway. The school not only provides education for the village children, but is used to pass on new skills and knowledge to the entire community. Moreover, the project is having a significant multiplier effect. Already two neighboring villages have followed the same model of community mobilization to build themselves schools. And the government is employing the Gando villagers with their new construction skills to work on other public projects.

Mr. Kéré remains driven by his desire to reinvest in his country. He leaves us with these two thoughts, on education and on architecture:

“Africa is full of very bright and capable young people. But only through access to education will they be able to build themselves a better world. For me, Gando School is a success because the villagers no longer see it as a waste of time for their children to be in school instead of working in the fields. They look at what young Francis was able to do because of his education, and they are now able to believe that their own children can also achieve.”

“Developing countries cannot be dependent on Europe for their architectural solutions. It should not be a North-South one-way street. We must develop our own solutions, and have pride in these. – Like this we will advance.”

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The WIPO Magazine is intended to help broaden public understanding of intellectual property and of WIPO’s work, and is not an official document of WIPO. The designations employed and the presentation of material throughout this publication do not imply the expression of any opinion whatsoever on the part of WIPO concerning the legal status of any country, territory or area or of its authorities, or concerning the delimitation of its frontiers or boundaries. This publication is not intended to reflect the views of the Member States or the WIPO Secretariat. The mention of specific companies or products of manufacturers does not imply that they are endorsed or recommended by WIPO in preference to others of a similar nature that are not mentioned.