Francis Kéré has become one of the world’s most distinguished contemporary architects, celebrated for his pioneering communal approach to design and his commitment to incorporating sustainable materials and modes of construction. In his interview with L’Architecture d’Aujourd’hui (AA magazine), he explains his approach to sustainable design to ensure his projects deliver a positive and lasting contribution to the physical and social environment.
Francis Kéré – “Today the notion of sustainability has lost much of its meaning as a result of disingenuous and narrow interpretations. But of course, it remains one of the most important pursuits of the architectural field. In order to do so in a manner that does not just pay lip-service to vaguely defined ideas, it is important to understand a sustainable design approach as one that embraces a complexity of choices. A kind of pragmatism is called for that is informed by carefully balanced compromises. A commitment to the locality of where one builds necessitates not only the consideration for the ecological but also the social and economic aspects of sustainability. This may vary slightly according to geography. There is no one- size-fits-all when it comes to sustainable architecture and use of technology.
That is not to say one always bring the same toolbox, but it is incredibly important to not lose sight of the variables that usually come from the place where one is active. Finally, the lifespan of a completed project and the ability of maintenance need to be a consideration. When designing architecture, this will result in bespoke answers to both the sustainability factor and the question about which technology to apply.
Concrete examples from my own practice are quite diverse, they include avoiding the need for air-conditioning through passive cooling strategies that are ecologically sound while also lowering the running costs of a building for smaller school complexes, but also understanding the sculptural brise-soleil façade of a government building as a justifiable expense, as the shading it provides radically lowers direct sun exposure and thus cooling costs.
On the other end of the spectrum, we have built a façade with local wooden poles that are stripped with a labour-intensive process, that in turn meant building with available material, supporting and paying local expertise and craftsmanship and making the result affordable and easily repairable.
The goal for architecture today needs to be to address all decisions by weighing the sometimes-conflicting benefits of different options to arrive at the most sustainable solution possible. One that can hold that category beyond a first glance!”
Francis Kéré is Principal of Kéré Architecture, Berlin, Germany; winner of the Global Holcim Gold (2012); and was a keynote speaker at the 6th International Holcim Forum in Cairo, Egypt (2019).