The Pritzker Prize, architecture’s most prestigious award, was awarded on Tuesday to Burkina Faso-born architect Dibedou Francis Kerry – the first African to win this honor in its 40-year history.
Tom Pritzker, president of the Hyatt Foundation that sponsors the award, said in a statement that Kerry, 56, was praised for his “pioneering” designs that are “sustainable for the Earth and its people – in extremely scarce lands.”
Kerr, a dual citizen of Burkina Faso and Germany, said he was “the happiest man on the planet” to become the 51st recipient of the illustrious award since it was first awarded in 1979.
“I have a feeling of great honor, but also a sense of responsibility,” he told AFP during an interview in his Berlin office.
Kere is known for building schools, health facilities, housing, civic buildings, and public spaces across Africa, including Benin, Burkina Faso, Mali, Togo, Kenya, Mozambique, Togo, and Sudan.
“He is both an engineer and a servant, improving the lives and experiences of countless citizens in a sometimes forgotten region of the world,” Pritzker said.
Keri has won praise for his 2001 project to establish a primary school in the village of Gando, in Burkina Faso, where he was born.
Unlike traditional school buildings that use concrete, Kere’s innovative design combines local clay reinforced with cement to form bricks that help retain cool air inside.
The wide, raised tin roof protects the building from rain while aiding in air circulation, which means natural ventilation without the need for air conditioning.
The Hyatt Foundation said in its release that Kerry engaged the local community during the design and construction phase, increasing the school’s student population from 120 to 700.
The success of the project saw the establishment of an annex, library, and housing for teachers in subsequent years.
The statement adds that Kere’s “natural climate empowers and transforms communities through the process of architecture, ‘designing buildings’ where resources are fragile and camaraderie is vital.”
“Through his commitment to social justice and participation, and the intelligent use of local materials to communicate and respond to the natural climate, he works in marginalized countries burdened with restrictions and adversities,” the organizers said.
In Burkina Faso, Kerry’s home, the tribute was hailed as a reminder that Burkina Faso should be internationally famous for more than the violent jihadist insurgency that swept the country.
Al-Qaeda affiliates and the so-called Islamic State have killed more than 2,000 people and displaced at least 1.7 million.
“In the current pain of the security crisis, our country must remember that it is also a nation of exceptional men like Francis Kerry,” said Ra Sablja Seydou Ouedraogo of the non-profit organization Free Afrik.
The award “highlights the African architect and the people of Burkina Faso,” said Nabila Aristide Bazi, president of the Council of Architects of Burkina Faso.
In 2017, Kerry became the first African architect to design the Serpentine Pavilion in London’s Hyde Park, a prestigious assignment given to a world-renowned architect each year.
He was also one of the architects who founded the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Museum in Geneva, and has had solo shows in museums in Munich and Philadelphia.
“I am absolutely convinced that everyone deserves quality,” he said in his office as he celebrated his award with his team.
“I am always thinking about how I can get the best for my clients, for those who can afford it but also for those who can’t afford it.
“This is my way of doing things, and using my architecture to create structures to serve people, let’s say to serve humanity,” Kerry added.