Diébédo Francis Kéré wins Thomas Jefferson Foundation Medal for Architecture

Design Indaba Speaker Diébédo Francis Kéré produces architectural work that inspires and unites.


When Diébédo Francis Kéré spoke at the 2011 Design Indaba Conference, he proposed that African architecture no longer look to the West for guidance. Kéré believes that Africans should stop imitating the Western way of building and rather adapt it to the needs of their own communities. 

Born in Gando in Burkina Faso in 1965, the architect founded his eponymous firm Kéré Architecture in 2005 and draws on his own home country as an impetus for design. For this reason, his projects have a strong focus on climate and energy. 

“My experience of growing up in a remote desert village has instilled a strong awareness of the social, sustainable, and cultural implications of design. I believe that architecture has the power to surprise, unite and inspire while mediating important aspects such as community, ecology and economy,” he says. 

Kéré’s work foregrounds sustainability and a community-centred approach. These were the reasons the judges of the Thomas Jefferson Foundation Medal for Architecture cited when awarding it to Kéré. Previous winners of this prestigious accolade include Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, Frank Gehry, Zaha Hadid, Toyo Ito and Sir David Adjaye. 

We take a look back at some of Kéré’s most prominent projects:

Serpentine Pavilion, Kensington Gardens, 2017

Pics: Iwan Baan and Kéré Architecture

Kéré’s work is fundamentally informed by climate and the natural landscape. For the Serpentine Pavilion’s roof, the architect took inspiration from the great canopy of a tree. “In my culture, certain trees hold spiritual meaning and mark important points of gathering and decision-making for the community. Like a tree, the Pavilion offers protection from the sun but still allows you to experience wind and rain.”

Lycee Schorge, Koudougou, Burkina Faso, 2016

Pics: Iwan Baan and Andrea Maretto

The Lycée Schorge Secondary School not only set a new standard for educational excellence in the region, it also showcased locally-sourced building materials in an innovative and modern way. Design elements that work with the climate, like an undulating ceiling and wooden screens, protect the earthen classrooms from heat, dust and wind. 


Gando Primary School Library, Gando, Burkina Faso, 2010-ongoing 

Pics: Kéré Architecture

Drawing on vernacular techniques, this extension of the Gando Primary School is built with compressed earth blocks made with local clay. The geometry of the library and its organic, elliptical shape is reminiscent of the traditional vernacular housing in the region. 

Xylem Pavilion, Tippet Rise Art Center, Fishtail, Montana, 2019 

Pics: Iwan Baan 

A 2100-square-foot pavilion, Xylem draws inspiration from the wooden and straw toguna structures sacred in Dogon communities in West Africa. Nestled in a grove of trees, it was constructed of locally and sustainably sourced timber and features a canopy of vertical logs, which filters shafts of light onto the seating areas. 

More on this architect:

Listen to Kéré’s Design Indaba presentation on how African architecture should forge its own path: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jAHeoh4TuCM 

Read our profile on the architect. https://www.designindaba.com/profiles/francis-k%C3%A9r%C3%A9

Francis Kéré's climatically adaptable design for a school in Burkina Faso earned him the Gold Holcim Award. https://www.designindaba.com/articles/creative-work/francis-k%C3%A9r%C3%A9-wins-gold-holcim-award

Francis Kéré architecture: Towards a museum of hope: https://www.designindaba.com/articles/design-indaba-news/francis-k%C3%A9r%C3%A9-architecture-towards-museum-hope

Francis Kéré Architecture's installation introduces the value of an African gathering in Chicago: https://www.designindaba.com/articles/creative-work/francis-k%C3%A9r%C3%A9-architectures-installation-introduces-value-african-gathering

Architect Diébédo Francis Kéré repurposes European techniques for his native country: https://www.designindaba.com/articles/design-indaba-news/architect-di%C3%A9b%C3%A9do-francis-k%C3%A9r%C3%A9-repurposes-european-techniques-his-native