Mono Kultur #46
The small room where I wait for the architect Francis Kéré in his Berlin office is filled with models, representations of his work spilling from the shelves onto the table. When Kéré arrives, he takes one look at the setup and decides that it is wrong. We’ll go instead to a nearby restaurant, where he is greeted warmly, but before that he insists on showing me through a space in the process of renovation, just across the courtyard from Kéré Architecture. His office will shortly expand into this space, he explains with breathless, infectious enthusiasm.
This whirlwind of a welcome – the zeal, the readiness to adapt, the emphasis on the social – might also describe Kéré’s particularly grounded approach to architecture and life in general. The trajectory that led him from Gando, a village in his native Burkina Faso, to Germany is an extraordinary one; and yet, while not denying its importance and singularity, the architect prefers to view it as the result of luck, hard graft, and his own stubbornly-held brand of optimism.
Born in 1965 in Gando as the son of the village chief, Kéré had the rare opportunity to receive a primary education in the nearby city of Tenkodogo – there was no school in Gando. At the age of 13, he began an apprenticeship in carpentry, and in 1985, the first plane that Kéré ever boarded would be the one that brought him to Germany for a carpentry training programme. Afterwards, instead of returning home, Kéré decided to attend night classes so he would qualify for the renowned architecture and engineering course at Berlin’s Technische Universität. His graduation project was the school Gando never had – built in 2001 with the help of the people it was designed for, a manifestation of his understanding of architecture as a fundamentally social act that should, in its most primary function, seek to improve the lives of the people who inhabit it.