Francis Kéré’s Minimal Shapes

 As the 2017 Serpentine Pavilion opens to the public, Port takes a look at the man behind this year’s commission and his journey from the villages of Burkina Faso to the gardens of Hyde Park

“Fundamental to my architecture is a sense of openness,” Diébédo Francis Kéré has said. This year, the award-winning architect from Gando, Burkina Faso becomes the first African architect of the annual Serpentine Pavilion, unveiled every summer in Kensington Gardens in Hyde Park. 

Inspired by a tree used as a common meeting point in his hometown, Kéré has designed an airy pavilion with an expansive roof that mimics a tree’s canopy; open while offering shelter against both rain and summer heat. Kéré has described his design as a community structure and a simple shelter that he hopes will create a sense of freedom and friendliness among visitors.

52-year-old Kéré was born in the small West African town of Gando, where constructing buildings was a community activity. He found himself unable to concentrate in school as he was drawn to thoughts on how he could transform structures to allow for more space, air, and light. “I was fascinated by how the raw clay from the earth could transform and become something that shapes space.” 

Kéré has consistently been aware of the presence of light in his buildings as fundamental in “showing the presence of energy.” By carefully studying the presence of light, the buildings he designs respond to weather conditions, protecting against sunlight or creating surfaces that light can enter through and reflect. “This is how architecture becomes dynamic like nature,” he explains.

He was the first child in his village allowed to attend school despite other residents deeming Western education unnecessary. After school he was awarded an apprenticeship in Germany, afterwards training at the Technical University of Berlin. While studying, he formed the Kéré Foundation to fund the building of Gando Primary School which earned him the Aga Khan award in 2001, and, since establishing his own practice in 2005, he has gone on to receive many other prestigious architecture awards. 

Kéré repeatedly returns to his roots for inspiration and has undertaken a number of projects in Gando, developing a primary school, the school library and a secondary school. Fascinated by natural materials, there is a significant relationship to nature running through Kéré’s architecture. His projects also put a strong emphasis on energy and the climate he is designing for, whether in Africa or Europe. “It is important to introduce structures that embrace natural ventilation and daylight not only for under-developed areas but also for places like London.”

The 2017 Serpentine Pavilion designed by Kéré Architecture is open until 8 October