Ln March 15, the world discovered the winner of the Pritzker 2022. His name: Diébédo Francis Kéré. He is the first African to obtain this distinction which puts him in the firmament of world architecture. Its particularity: a career rich in works of commitment for “social justice” with sustainable constructions adapted to the natural environment. After tributes around the world and the actual awarding of the prize on May 27 in London, Francis Kéré returned to his country, Burkina Faso, for a one-week stay. Objective: to present its prize to the authorities and to its fellow citizens, to share its scope as well.
Hundreds of Burkinabè made the trip to welcome him at Ouagadougou international airport. A tribute ceremony in front of an audience of officials was offered to him, an opportunity for the country through its Head of State, Paul Sandaogo Damiba, to award him the medal of Commander of the National Order, one of Burkina’s highest honors. Francis Kéré, who usually resides in Germany, spent a stay in Burkina of a rare intensity, worthy of the value of the prize he obtained in all its dimensions, symbolic and pecuniary, namely a golden medal accompanied by an envelope of 100,000 dollars, a distinction that brings a wind of hope to a country caught in a difficult context of terrorism against a backdrop of inflation and the economic sword of Damocles.
A welcome worthy of the greatest heroes
Everything will have been special in the return of this prodigal son. The most superstitious will say that even Lady Rain wanted to be associated with the event by opening, early in the morning, its floodgates on the Burkinabè capital, thus softening the temperatures which are still quite high at this time of year. At Ouagadougou international airport, his colleagues from the National Order of Architects of Burkina Faso were there alongside representatives of the Burkinabè Ministries of Housing and Communication, but also officials from the National Tourist Office without forget the “special envoys” from private companies working in the field of architecture.
The pride of a whole family and a whole people
Mimpamba Thomas Combary, comedian, is a “fan” of Francis Kéré. He considers him “a model of success”. Thomas recalls that during his student stay in Berlin, from 2019 to 2021, “everyone was talking about Francis Kéré there”. “I also had to work in the buildings he built, particularly the Village Opéra. And today, it is my duty to welcome it. I simply came to say thank you for the honor done to my country and to all of Africa, ”says the actor.
Presence also noticed at Ouagadougou airport: that of the relatives of Francis Kéré, a good thirty people who observe, all proud of their son. In the front row, his mother Azara Zèba whose presence makes the moment even more unique. Not very talkative, she lacks the words to express her joy. “I don’t know what to tell you, I’m just happy with the distinction made to my son,” she says. François Kéré, he has a little more to say about Francis, his younger brother: “This award of international scope does not only honor the family, it honors the whole nation”, he rejoices, the gaze directed towards the tarmac.
As the minutes of waiting pass, the atmosphere fills with more energy. Two cantors of traditional Burkinabè music, Kisto Koinbré and Sidpayété, who came to welcome “the worthy son of the country” with melodies, improvise a concert. Their dancers compete in style to the rhythm of the sound of drums and balafons. At the same time, banners bearing the effigy of Francis Kéré were waved by a guard of honor spontaneously formed on either side of the alley leading to the reception room. It is 7 p.m. and the iron bird that is to bring back Francis Kéré is still waiting, but nothing to disturb the happy atmosphere of the airport. Finally, shortly before 8 p.m., he landed with Francis Kéré on board.
Francis Kéré finally appears, quite relaxed but visibly moved to see the crowd mobilized in his honor. His mom hugs him for a long time. Alongside Azara Zèba and his son, stand members of the government, including the Minister of State for National Reconciliation, Yéro Boly. The first words of the Pritzker laureate express his joy at “dedicating this distinction” to his country.
“It is a feeling of pride, of great respect, of gratitude to these people, including my family, who instilled in me the fighting spirit that has always accompanied me. I dedicate this prize to all of Burkina Faso, its men, its women, this youth who are fighting but who do not have the luck or the visibility that I have. I was just lucky enough to go into a field where very few of us had the luck and even the perseverance or the courage to continue”.
For Francis Kéré, 57, returning to Burkina goes beyond symbolism. “There are thousands of young Burkinabè who have talent and who work in a field where they lack a certain confidence,” he said. The Minister in charge of Reconciliation replied: “Through this distinction, you prove that young people in Burkina Faso must be inspired by the example of hard work, the will to succeed whatever the difficulties. Thanks to your efforts, you have succeeded in planting the flag of Burkina and that of all of Africa on the Hall of Fame”, thundered Yéro Boly.
The other meaning of the Pritzker Prize
On another level, the Francis Kéré prize and his visit to Burkina Faso are perceived by many people as the opportunity for a revolution in the architectural sector, even though sustainable constructions adapted to the climate remain a big challenge. Because this is the particularity of Francis Kéré, committed to the intelligent use of local materials”. This was welcomed by Pritzker organizers who highlighted the primary school in Gando, the village where Francis Kéré was born. In this town located 189 km east of Ouagadougou, a school based on materials taken on site was designed to withstand the heat. This alone sums up the philosophy that Francis Kéré has of the first art, namely: building with and for the community in order to break down social inequalities.
A revolution in architecture, yes, but for the authorities of the country as well as for many citizens, this coronation of the native of Gando is also perceived as a challenge in an environment to be made safe. “I know that our country has a big priority, which is the fight against terrorism. Despite this crisis, the government said to itself that this medal that Francis Kéré received is a source of pride for the whole nation, a breath of fresh air”, said the architect, after an interview with the Prime Minister, Albert Ouédraogo, aware of the emergencies facing the country. One of its flagship projects, the construction of the future National Assembly in place of the old one, which disappeared under the ashes during the popular uprising of 2014, remains suspended in this security context which has been deteriorating for seven years. “It’s true that I drew the National Assembly. I admire him, and everyone admires him, but right now it’s not the priority,” he said. And to add: “I know in what fight Burkina is currently. The urgency is to appease hearts, to find solutions for the return of peace”.