It is the Oscar, the Nobel or the Pulitzer of architecture. The 45th Pritzker Prize has just gone to Didiero Francis Kéré, 56. As you may have guessed, the man is the first African to win the award. However, this one had left the western area several times by going to the Chinese Wang Shu (2012), the Japanese Toyō Itō (2013), Shigeru Ban (2014) and Arata Isozaki (2019), the Indian Bakrishna Vithaldas Doshi (2018) or the Chilean Alejandro Aravena (2016). It should be noted in passing that the latter has since directed an Architecture Biennale in Venice. One sign among others that the art of building (well) is now officially located on at least four continents. No one has indeed come to distinguish Australia in the Pritzker list…
“The materials I used as the earth were considered poor, including in my community.”
The story of Didiero Francis Kéré is a fairy tale, African version. The man was born in Gando, a village in Burkina Faso. The country had just gained independence. It was previously Upper Volta. The boy was the chief’s son, yes, but the nearest school was twenty kilometers away. Didiero nevertheless managed to study. He quickly became passionate about the idea of architecture with a social purpose. A method of construction that would be useful “for the well-being of the community”. He continued his training in Germany, of which he eventually acquired nationality. Then he set to work in Gando itself. It was there that he brought out a school not of land, but built with it. As its designer himself explains, “the materials I used were considered poor, including in my community. People expected a concrete building with glass windows.”
The school nevertheless earned the beginner one of the prestigious Aga Khan Prizes in 2004. We know that the latter is primarily interested in architecture that renews vernacular (or local if you prefer) traditions. Didiero Francis Kéré then imagined other structures for Gando. Library. A center for women. Housing. His reputation has won Mali, Sudan, Mozambique or Benin. It has gone beyond Africa to reach the United States or Europe. Man has built or taught there. We have thus heard it in the United States, in Milwaukee or at Harvard. In Switzerland, it has twice found its place. Kéré rebuilt a third of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Museum in Geneva in 2012, with the rest of the building by Japanese Ban and Brazilian Gringo Cardia. He has also taught since 2013 at the School of Architecture of Mendrisio. On the other hand, his French projects never came to fruition. To his great regret, moreover.
What impression does the Pritzker make on the new laureate? The latter expressed his amazement in the long one-page interview published on March 16 by “Le Monde” under the pen of Isabelle Régnier. “I never imagined my work, which I have always considered a personal matter, could one day earn me this award. My surprise was enormous.” The journalist underlines, however, that her attribution is in the current line of the jury. Indeed! For its first edition, in 1987, it crowned a monument of American art in the person of Philip Johnson. The jurors then hailed the careers of “archistars” building with tens or even hundreds of millions. Today, they are interested in more modest fashions. Closer to their users. The choice in 2021 of the French provincials Anne Lacaton and Jean-Philippe Vassal was already clear proof of this. Nevertheless, we continue to build, everywhere in the world, something always bigger, higher and more expensive. Megalomania remains for the moment an incurable disease.
Born in 1948, Etienne Dumont made studies in Geneva which were of little use to him. Latin, Greek, right. A failed lawyer, he branched off into journalism. Most often in the cultural sections, he worked from March 1974 to May 2013 at the “Tribune de Genève”, starting by talking about cinema. Then came the fine arts and books. Other than that, as you can see, nothing to report.
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Architecture – Didiero Francis Kéré receives the Pritzker Prize
– Didiero Francis Kéré receives the Pritzker Prize
The Nobel for the art of building goes for the first time to an African. Kéré rebuilt the Red Cross Museum in Geneva and taught in Mendrisio.