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Diebedo Francis Kere becomes first African to win Pritzker architecture prize

Burkinabe architect Diebedo Francis Kere has won the Pritzker prize . ©AFP

New York (AFP) - The Pritzker Prize, architecture's most prestigious award, was awarded Tuesday to Burkina Faso-born architect Diebedo Francis Kere -- the first African to win the honor in its more than 40-year history.

Kere, 56, was hailed for his "pioneering" designs that are "sustainable to the earth and its inhabitants -- in lands of extreme scarcity," Tom Pritzker, chairman of the Hyatt Foundation that sponsors the award, said in a statement.

Kere, a dual citizen of Burkina Faso and Germany, is the 51st recipient of the illustrious prize since it was first awarded in 1979.

He is renowned 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 equally architect and servant, improving upon the lives and experiences of countless citizens in a region of the world that is at times forgotten," said Pritzker.

Kere won plaudits for his 2001 project for a primary school in Gando village, in Burkina Faso, where he was born.

Unlike traditional school buildings which used concrete, Kere's innovative design combined local clay, fortified with cement to form bricks that helped retain cooler air inside.

A wide raised tin roof protects the building from rains while helping the air circulate, meaning natural ventilation without any need for air conditioning.

Kere engaged the local community during the design and building phase, and the number of students at the school increased from 120 to 700, the Hyatt Foundation said in its release.

The success of the project saw the creation of an extension, a library and teachers' housing in later years.

'Natural climate'

Kere "empowers and transforms communities through the process of architecture," designing buildings "where resources are fragile and fellowship is vital," the statement add.

"Through his commitment to social justice and engagement, and intelligent use of local materials to connect and respond to the natural climate, he works in marginalized countries laden with constraints and adversity," the organizers said.

Kere was also one of the architects behind Geneva's International Red Cross and Red Crescent Museum.

In 2017, he became the first African architect to design the Serpentine pavilion in London's Hyde Park, a prestigious assignment given to a world-famous architect every year.

Kere has also held solo museum shows in Munich and Philadelphia.

In the release, Kere said he was "hoping to change the paradigm, push people to dream and undergo risk."

"It is not because you are rich that you should waste material.It is not because you are poor that you should not try to create quality," he said.

"Everyone deserves quality, everyone deserves luxury, and everyone deserves comfort.We are interlinked and concerns in climate, democracy and scarcity are concerns for us all."

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