Capture the wind to cool off, use wood and clay as basic materials for houses or build buildings adapted to the daily path of the sun to provide natural shade: instead of overexploiting nature, a new generation of Architects in Sub-Saharan Africa focuses on building practices that conserve resources and are climate friendly.
“It is high time,” says Francis Kere, one of the best-known sub-Saharan architects, born in Burkina Faso and now living in Berlin. “For a better future for all of us, not just in Africa, but for all of us on this planet, it is important to go back and use only the materials that nature gives us freely and stop overexploiting them” , he told DW. .
Kere designs the new Goethe-Institut in Dakar. It is the first time in the history of the German cultural institute that a building commissioned specifically for its purposes has been built in sub-Saharan Africa. “We are very happy that Francis Kere has taken over the design of this building,” said Philip Küppers, director of the Goethe-Institut in Dakar, adding that it was always clear “that it had to be an interaction between the Germans and the Senegalese or the West Africans”. “On February 21, German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier will attend the foundation stone laying ceremony.
Traditional building materials
For construction, Kere will use local building materials, including clay and laterite, a highly compacted soil that can be cut into brick-like blocks. The walls of the building will be made of a double layer of BTC bricks (French acronym for compressed earth bricks), pressed from slightly moistened soil with the addition of a little cement, which will make them strong and waterproof.
Innovative school design in Gando, Burkina Faso
In addition, the architect plans to use clay, which has been used for centuries in the Sahel region due to its thermoregulatory properties. Kere’s approach is both traditional and contemporary. He also plans to employ local workers, for the most part. “Building is a big job and it requires many, many people working together, but also people who have a lot of experience and who pass on their knowledge to the next generation”, explains the architect. It’s a community event that has worked well for the architect in past projects, he says.
Despite his international success, Francis Kere has never forgotten his roots. He grew up in a small village in rural Burkina Faso. To attend primary school, he moved to the nearest town where he lived with relatives for some time. In the 1980s, a scholarship brought him to Berlin, where he first trained as a carpenter before beginning studies in architecture at the Technical University. While still a student, he carried out his first major construction project in his homeland, building a primary school in the village of Gando.
In 2004 he was awarded the Agha Khan Prize for Architecture, the first of several awards. He almost didn’t return to college, but his teachers convinced him to finish his studies. In 2005, he founded his own agency in Berlin, Kere Architecture. He has had great international success, known among others for Opera Village Africa, an artistic education project in the capital of Burkina Faso initiated by the late German director Christoph Schlingensief.
The Africa Village Opera in 2015
The new Goethe-Institut in Dakar will be able to accommodate around 600 students, with space for video conferences and online courses, according to Philip Küppers. A recording studio will be set up in the library for digital recordings of local people’s oral histories. Küppers considers that the role of the institute, which has been in Dakar since 1978, is above all to promote dialogue between people and to strengthen mutual understanding.
The large baobab around which the building is built is highly symbolic for the Senegalese, underlines Küppers. “It’s the place where people used to meet in the village, where the elders used to meet, where problems were discussed, where maybe the little local court would decide a dispute,” Küppers said. It is a place for discussion and gathering, which is exactly what a Goethe-Institut does, “bringing people together to discuss things, to develop something new”. The start of construction has been delayed due to the COVID pandemic, but the new institute is now expected to open in summer 2023.
This article was originally written in German.