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Goodbye Karl – you will be missed.


More from our current issue mono.kultur #46: architect Francis Kéré on architecture, pragmatism and aesthetics.

More than clay and bricks, it is the use of light, colour, and air that is so successful and striking in your work. You’ve spoken before about a formative experience being the time you spent in a classroom that lacked these three things. Were you thinking at the time, ‘I could do this better?’ How did you translate that experience into your own architecture?

I wasn’t so much thinking, ‘I could do this building better’ – I was hoping for the chance to just improve something. Can you imagine sitting in a classroom with more than 50 other kids? When it’s more than 40°C outside? It was so uncomfortable. But that’s the kind of situation where the idea of one day making a difference can begin to grow, as you look at all the sunlight outside and wonder why it’s so dark inside. This marked my childhood, and that thought – ‘One day, if you have the chance: make it better’ – that stayed with me.

There’s an elegance and sensitivity to your buildings that is often assumed to be somehow absent from buildings in remote or undeveloped areas, as if you can only have the function.

Again, I always want to convince. I want the buildings to work but at the same time I want them to be innovative. You could do something that is well ventilated, but pay no attention to how it looks. However, I realised after some of the first buildings were completed that people were amazed by them – by their appearance, their qualities, by the architecture. In creating something that works with the climate, we came up with the elevated roofs that define the school in Gando, also visually. Similarly, the use of bricks introduces a regular form, which in Africa gives a building a higher value. When I realised how impressed people were by these aspects, I thought, ‘Keep doing it like that.’ I realised that beauty is moving people, that elegance and aesthetics really have the power to touch and inspire.

Later, when we were building the teachers’ housing in Gando, I met an old lady who had arrived in the village on her way to a funeral. Despite this, she sat down, and was looking at the arched roofs of the structures. Then I noticed she was talking to herself, addressing the person who was to be buried, saying, ‘Your time is finished, but if you could see the things people are doing here, you would wish you had lived longer so you could have seen it. I will take my time to watch this. Whether I arrive late or early, it doesn’t matter. I don’t want to miss this.’ That was such a powerful energy.

Image: Lycée Schorge, Burkina Faso
Original photography by Iwan Baan


As we slowly stir to life, let’s start 2019 with a few uplifting words from our current issue mono.kultur #46: architect Francis Kéré on his legendary and infectious sense of optimism.

And yet, it feels like there is so little time in the face of global crises like climate change or migration, both of which affect Africa immensely. Does optimism negate the urgency of these issues? Don’t we need to be more pessimistic to accelerate change?

Optimism in this case is not neglecting the urgent problems that we are facing. The issues we are dealing with are serious, big, and dramatic, so of course we have to be conscious of them. But I am not sure being pessimistic would help. I see in crises an opportunity to create and be inventive. They can push us, designers and architects, back to the reality of architecture. We have to be inventive, not pessimistic. The change, of course, needs to come fast, but we should avoid solutions that are not completely thought through, as they may have a negative impact that the next generation will have to fix. For example, if you take the Parisian suburbs, the banlieues, they were quickly developed, but today the city is struggling to deal with these sensitive neighbourhoods, which in urban politics have come to be seen as incubators of problems.

So you’re a pragmatist as much as an optimist.

It’s about being ready to adapt. If you come with ideas sewn up like a corset, with no possibility to change, then they will not work. That’s why I remain so focused on the idea of dialogue. I always ask what is possible: how can we adapt, what do we need to redesign, where can we improve.

So in that regard, do you see building as being a social act in the truest sense of the word? Can it be designed in advance, on paper, or is it meaningless until people are involved?

Once you get people involved, you are transferring ideas. That’s really what the social aspect is about: transfer. It’s not about design so much as a process of communication. Creating a sort of vehicle for an idea. The social impact becomes much bigger, because not only do people gain an object; they gain knowledge. I remember when I was producing some of my designs, I had friends saying, ‘Be careful, people are going to start copying you.’ I was thinking, ‘Oh, but that’s a good thing. If they copy it, it means it’s good.’

Image: Lycée Schorge, Burkina Faso
Photography by Daniel Schwartz


We’re not really talking yet, but hey, Happy new year. 2019, seriously? 2019.

Yes, still off the radar. Merry Christmas. Night night.


We’re on break to investigate the meaning of the word ‘holidays’. What was all that about again? Get some rest and thank you.


Our recommendation for long winter nights: the wonderful and disarming masterpiece Shoplifters, by Japanese director Hirokazu Koreeda about a family of outcasts on the fringes of Tokyo. Utterly breathtaking and heartbreaking.


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


Dear Friends,

in our most colourful issue yet, we step into the life and work of architect Francis Kéré, known in equal measure for his lighthearted and innovative architecture, his remarkable background, and his infectious sense of optimism.

And his path is an extraordinary one: beginning in Gando, a small village in Burkina Faso, and moving all the way to West Berlin in the 1980s, where Kéré would end up studying architecture. His graduation project was the school Gando never had – built in 2001 with the help of the people it was designed for, the village community. It was also the starting point for his own practice that celebrates architecture as a fundamentally social act.

Since then, Kéré has completed numerous projects both in Africa and beyond, including schools, medical centres, cultural institutions, and temporary installations, such as the renowned annual Serpentine Pavilion in 2017. Frequently relying on local materials and infrastructure, his work is marked by a profound simplicity and refreshing lightness, meeting technical problems with surprising and seemingly effortless solutions. It reflects his attitude that architecture should, in its most primary function, seek to improve the lives of the people who inhabit it.

With mono.kultur, Francis Kéré talked about his long trajectory from a remote village in Africa to Berlin, his steadfast belief in optimism, and what makes a tree a perfect piece of architecture.

Designwise, we followed Kéré’s principle to work with what is at hand, sourcing papers from dead stock at our printers’, essentially using an assortment of leftovers. And colour, of course, with the issue based on the national colours of Burkina Faso, paying tribute to the idea of culture as a shared ground to build upon.

In short, mono.kultur #46 is the perfect remedy against dreary autumn days. Available as ever through our online store mono.konsum, or at the trusted book dealer of your choice very soon indeed.

Enjoy and all our best,


mono.kultur #46
“Architecture is a collective endeavour.”

Autumn 2018 / English / 15 x 20 cm / 48 Pages
Printed on Six Different Stocks of Paper

Interview by Fiona Shipwright
Works by Kéré Architecture
Design by Julie Gayard/jutojo



With mono.kultur #46, we turn to a singular career in architecture. Finally out next week.