London’s Kensington Gardens has hosted an architectural exhibition every year since 2000, but this year’s installation is a landmark occasion. It marks the first time that an African architect has designed a structure for the Serpentine Pavilion.
Considered a centerpiece of London’s cultural summer season, being selected for the Serpentine Pavilion exhibition is a rare honor. Architect Francis Kéré grew up in the village of Gando in Burkina Faso. Perhaps his father sensed something different about his son when he insisted on prioritizing his education over working in the fields. Though Kéré now lives and works in Germany, his design for the exhibition makes it clear that he still feels a close bond with his homeland.
Kéré’s design takes inspiration from a tree in his native village. The tree provided shade and a gathering spot for people, and the exhibition is meant to do the same. Kéré hopes that it will bring visitors closer to nature while also fostering peoples’ relationships. The design includes a large roof that is reminiscent of a tree’s sheltering canopy and a central courtyard that is accessible by four openings. The installation provides protection from London’s heat and rain, making it a natural spot for passersby to gather.
Kéré’s work was chosen by the CEO of the Serpentine Galleries, Yana Peel. Hans Ulrich Obrist, Artistic Director of the galleries, also participated in the selection process. In a statement, they note that they “share Kéré’s belief that architecture, at its best, can enhance our collective creativity and sense of community, and push people to take the future into their own hands.”
Being in the spotlight for such a prestigious exhibition is a world away from where Kéré’s life began. As the oldest son of the village leader, he was expected to work in the fields. Nonetheless, his father insisted on a western-style education. Kéré persisted in his father’s vision, eventually earning an opportunity to be an apprentice in Germany. At university in his adopted country, Kéré worked hard to earn an architectural degree. He established the Kéré Foundation in the midst of his studies, going on to fund the construction of a primary school in his home village, among many other projects.
In 2005, Kéré founded an architecture firm in Berlin, a venture he continues to head today. His numerous achievements and awards have made him an in-demand professional who also is considered a pioneer in the fields of engineering and architecture.
The opportunity to design the installation at this year’s Serpentine Pavilion is his latest honor, but unlikely to be his last. Kéré continues his mission to give back to the people of Burkina Faso and other locations around the world.
Photo credits: Serpentine Pavilion 2017, designed by Francis Kéré. Serpentine Gallery, London (23 June – 8 October 2017) © Kéré Architecture, Photography © 2017 Iwan Baan