FRANCIS KÉRÉ: BUILDING FOR THE FUTURE

Francis Kéré is an internationally renowned architect whose work focuses on sustainability and collaboration. Born in the village of Gando in Burkina Faso, he came late to architecture, winning a scholarship at the age of 30 to the Technical University of Berlin. Since then, he has trodden a stellar career path, designing projects in both West Africa and Europe. Earlier this year he became the first African architect to be awarded the Pritzker Prize, architecture’s highest honour. Güntner is honoured that he has brought his concept of Tugunora to our booth at this year’s Chillventa, creating a unique space for exchanging ideas.

Interview written by Lisa Gerle

Güntner: Tell us about Tugunora and what you wanted to achieve with this project.

Francis Kéré: The word is a blend of Tuguna, a covered public square in West Africa, and Agora, the ancient Greek open-air meeting place. Both promote dialogue in different ways. I wanted to create a place where conversations can take place in a familiar but unexpected way, whether they’re moderated or simply take place between people who meet by chance. Tugunora makes no distinction between stage and audience, and when people are freed from the usual seating conventions, unexpected things can happen.

Güntner: Sustainability is of huge importance both for you and for Güntner. How is it reflected in your work?

Francis Kéré: I like to use the word prudence. Today's throwaway behaviour is in conflict with sustainability. In order to create buildings or even products that can be repaired when something is out of order, we need to think about the material we’re using. Where does it come from? How much of it is there? And can it be repaired with little effort?

“IT’S IMPORTANT FOR EVERYONE TO UNDERSTAND THAT SUSTAINABILITY IS COMPLEX AND CANNOT BE GUARANTEED WITH PROMISES.“
FRANCIS KÉRÉ ARCHITECT, KÉRÉ ARCHITECTURE

Güntner: When we talk about the sensible use of resources, we also need to think about the basic needs of modern life. Whether it’s the correct temperature control of buildings, the availability of fresh food or even the reuse of waste heat from data centres, how  involved is today's architecture in these issues?

Francis Kéré: Today's architecture is faced with very complex tasks. I can only speak for myself when I say that I always try to harmonise things in the best possible way and not blindly build on the most popular solutions. To create a pleasant indoor climate, I first think about how the building itself can contribute to it. And I try to learn from architecture that found solutions for similar issues long before our modern technology.

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Güntner: Is it still exciting to plan a new building?

Francis Kéré: Yes, of course. I’m incredibly lucky that what I love doing most is my job. Every project is a new challenge and depending on what part of the services I and my team are involved in, I bring my own approach. But I also like to learn from everyone we work with. And then each phase has different things that are exciting. At the very beginning, there are so many possibilities and you can let your thoughts run free. Then in the planning of the details it’s always exciting to work with structural engineers and other experts to work out the feasibility of the ideas together. But I also think it's great to go to the construction sites and see how they are being built. And then there is always a bit of excitement when you hand the building over to the users and watch the project take on a life of its own. 

Güntner: One day, when your grandchildren ask you, "What did you do to help secure our future?", what would you like to be able to tell them?

Francis Kéré: That I tried to keep alive the important building knowledge of our ancestors and to weave it into forward-looking architecture. And in doing so, I showed the next generation practical options for building in such a way that a liveable planet with great architecture could continue to exist for their children's children.