Cape Town — Burkina Faso-born architect Diebedo Francis Kere has become the first African to win the Pritzker Prize, architecture’s most prestigious honour, in its more than 40-year history.
Born in Gando, Burkina Faso, and based in Berlin, Germany, the architect (known as Francis Kere) empowers and transforms communities through the process of architecture, according to the Pritzker Prize announcement. “Through his commitment to social justice and engagement, and intelligent use of local materials to connect and respond to the natural climate, he works in marginalized countries laden with constraints and adversity, where architecture and infrastructure are absent. Building contemporary school institutions, health facilities, professional housing, civic buildings and public spaces, oftentimes in lands where resources are fragile and fellowship is vital, the expression of his works exceeds the value of a building itself.”
In an interview with AFP, Kere said he was the “happiest man on this planet” to become the 51st recipient of the illustrious prize since it was first awarded in 1979. “I have a feeling of an overwhelming honor but also a sense of responsibility,” he added.
He holds dual citizenship of Burkina Faso and Germany.
Tom Pritzker, chairman of the Hyatt Foundation that sponsors the award, said in a statement that Kere was recognized for his “pioneering” designs that are “sustainable to the earth and its inhabitants – in lands of extreme scarcity”
Kere is renowned for building schools, health facilities, housing, civic buildings, and public spaces across Africa, including Benin, Burkina Faso, Mali, Togo, Kenya, Mozambique and Sudan, according to AFP.
He built his first building, Gando Primary School, when he was still in college, in 2001. The project was recognized in 2004 with the prestigious Aga Khan Award, for works built in countries with a significant Muslim presence. According to CNN, the project proved to be a springboard for his career and still guides his ethos today. Having further transformed his village and other communities across Africa with his socially-minded designs, the 56-year-old has now been named among the greats of his profession.
He was also one of the architects behind Geneva’s International Red Cross and Red Crescent Museum, and has held solo museum shows in Munich and Philadelphia.
Kere will officially be named Pritzker laureate at a ceremony in London later this year. As with previous winners, he will be awarded a U.S.$100,000 grant and a bronze medal.