“Architecture should give us oxygen,” says Hans Ulrich Obrist, artistic director and rainmaker-in-chief at the Serpentine Galleries in London. He cites a proposal by his hero, the late conceptual architect Cedric Price, for re-oxygenating Manhattan. He also thinks that oxygen is something that is offered at this year’s Serpentine Pavilion, by the Berlin-based architect Francis Kéré.
Kéré first became interested in building as a child, growing up in Burkina Faso, helping his uncle in the demoralising business of restoring mud-built buildings that degraded every year in the rains. He went to Berlin to study, where among other things he encountered the architecture of Mies van der Rohe, who is the first name that comes up when you ask him his inspirations. He studied and measured a little-known Mies-designed house in east Berlin and admired how it was “little but very powerful”. He liked the architect’s “rationality”.
Kéré decided to bring these qualities to his home town of Gando, in Burkina Faso. He wanted to develop ways of building that worked better, without resorting to the expensive and alien techniques of reinforced concrete and air conditioning favoured by investors from outside. In a location that had no electricity, or access to heavy building machinery, he chose to improve traditional methods.
He designed and raised funding for a school, built of earth strengthened with a 10% mixture of concrete, with an oversailing metal roof that gave shade from the brutal sun and protected the walls from the rain. The design allowed for cooling air to pass through and around the building. In its primary purpose, of raising school attendance in a country where it is among the lowest in the world, it was a success: originally intended for 150 pupils, the school now has 1,000. Serpentine pavilion 2017: Francis Kéré’s cool shades of Africa | Art and design | The Guardian