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Francis Kéré on his first project – building a schook for his hometown in Burkina Faso – excerpted from our new issue mono.kultur #46.

The Gando School in your hometown is the project that brought you initial acclaim and attention worldwide. This was your student project that you began working on before you graduated. Was that always your plan?

When I began studying architecture, I knew I wanted to improve construction techniques and how people build in Burkina Faso; that was always very strong in my mind. I started attending extra workshops to get the skills and knowledge I needed. I was focused on just trying to build. While my friends were off to visiting places such as the Palace of Versailles in France, I would be thinking, ‘What for? Could you build that in Africa?’ Most students were designing ‘normal’ European projects. When I started to talk about my idea to build a school in Africa, some were surprised. Every day I would joke that I was just studying so I could ‘improve’ traditional African huts. Some of my peers really thought that’s what I was doing and would laugh because in their eyes, it was not architecture. But there were some who were really interested in what I was doing and said, ‘Finally, something useful.’

I started to think more about designing. Two of my teachers encouraged me to consider design as something to take seriously, something that could really add to the discussion of architecture. I made my first models, and then one of my teachers put a coin inside one to represent a first donation of support. It gave me the idea to make reproductions of this model and put them everywhere as donation boxes. I would nudge fellow students to smoke less or drink less coffee, and donate the change they saved. The process started in quite an amusing way, but that approach really became the basis for the project. From there I started going to shops and asking if I could leave a box to collect money. I realise I’m not talking much about architecture here, but this is such an important part of it all.

Image: Gando Primary School, Burkina Faso
Photography by Erik-Jan Ouwerkerk, Courtesy of Kéré Architecture