Francis Kéré makes history as the first African to win the Pritzker Architecture Prize

For showing “the power of materiality rooted in place”

Last week, the 56-year-old Francis Kéré was announced as the winner of the Pritzker prize, the biggest honour in architecture. He’s also the first African and the first black person to win the prize. Eighteen years ago, his Gando project won him the Aga Khan Award for Architecture, marking him as a generational talent who’d go on to achieve great feats. 

Kéré’s work celebrates the community, creating expressive spaces for simple existence to shine through. Centring community in more ways than one, the Gando project was executed with locals, who shared their input and helped source materials. Everyone did what they could: children gathered stones for the foundations, women brought water for brick-making, men volunteered their labor.

“Francis Kéré’s entire body of work,” the Pritzker jury said, “shows us the power of materiality rooted in place. His buildings, for and with communities, are directly of those communities – in their making, their materials, their programs and their unique characters. They are tied to the ground on which they sit and to the people who sit within them. They have presence without pretense and an impact shaped by grace.”

After arriving in Berlin on a vocational carpentry scholarship, Kéré learnt to make roofs and furniture, and took further classes at night to improve his technique. Today his elegant touch is sought all over the world, as he continues to work “at the intersection of utopia and pragmatism [by creating] contemporary architecture that feeds the imagination with an afro-futurist vision.”

Some of his most acclaimed work resides within Africa, primarily in Burkina Faso, where he was commissioned to design the Ouagadougou-based parliament building after it was burned during the country’s 2014 uprisings. It’s not yet completed, due to further escalations of violence earlier this year. He also designed Mozambique’s Benga Riverside School and its residential community and in Mali, the National Park of Mali and Centre for Earth. Another National Assembly project is currently under construction in Benin Republic, a project that “takes inspiration from the palaver tree, the age-old West African tradition of meeting under a tree to make consensual decisions in the interest of a community.”

After he was awarded the Pritzker, Kéré reflected on the sustainable model of his work. “Sometimes the Western world–and how it communicates–makes things in the West [appear to] be the best, without taking into account that local materials can be the solution to the climate crisis and can be our best alternative in terms of socio-economic development…the more local materials you use, the better you can promote the local economy and (build) local knowledge, which also makes people proud.”

A ceremony in London later this year will see Francis Kéré officially named as Pritzker laureate. He will also receive a special bronze medal and a grant of $100,000.