With no electricity, sparse drinking water, and a life that took a pause with every sundown, the village of Gando had not foreseen the incoming change. Remotely located in Burkina Faso, a landlocked country of extensive plateaus in eastern Africa, the village has gained global attention through the remarkable works of one of its own community member, architect Diébédo Francis Kéré.
As a boy of young age, attending a lecture in a poorly ventilated classroom during the hottest days of the year, Kéré had an inkling that reality could be much better. This slowly turned into a vision of uplifting the Gando community, which he believed needed an external perspective. For those who seek, there are always means and that is how a scholarship knocked at his door for studying architecture at the Berlin Institute of Technology, which he believes was brought to him by luck.
As he recalls his journey from the university to back home during his student days, he is filled with a set of queer emotions, a feeling that has kept him grounded even through his recognition. These emotions stem from community pride, where he claims his achievements as a result of committed love and support from the Gando members. What inspires us is, that the members had eventually carved out their own leader out of a young passionate man.
Upon his final return from Germany, all eyes were fixed on his plans for future of the community. While the young man had traveled away to a strange land, whose architectural models were being replicated across the world, he chose differently. He was resolute that only what Gando already had and knew could bring a radical change. When this was shared among his fellows, that he was going to use mud for rebuilding the primary school, most of them were shocked and disappointed.
The villagers could only imagine the similar dilapidated walls like that of their thatch-roofed homes, but Kéré had something else on his mind, an idea that he didn’t know would inspire many others. Although they had their doubts, the community was again standing strong with him, to realise the dream that they all had envisioned together.
The local mud was shaped into adobe bricks and the technique was taught across the whole village. While some members took up building adobe walls, the others were instructed to beat the laid out small grits and scrub the fine grains into a polished stone floor. The truss roof system was kept light and lifted for adequate ventilation. This vernacular design was splashed with yellow louvered windows along its length.
Kéré and his Gando family took a step forward from their first self constructed project to the impressive school library, with earthen pots installed in the ceiling that sprinkled light patches across the floor. Since then many projects have been brought to life on the Gando land, paving his way to Aga Khan Award for Architecture in 2004 and Global Award for Sustainable Architecture in 2009. The renowned Serpentine Pavilion was also commissioned to Kéré in its 2017 edition.
An exhaustive list of his works and contribution to the modern world stupefies many, for he used native knowledge along with progressive techniques to create a positive impact. Effortlessly adopting sustainability in each of his projects, he has introduced a myriad of possibilities with natural building materials.
Although his work takes the limelight, we wanted to remind our readers of his community’s unprecedented efforts in raising a warrior who fought against limitations to shape a resilient society. The community now is equipped with knowledge of construction techniques, which has become a source of income as well for the whole Gando. We acknowledge them as a resilient community because they willingly brought in the necessary changes to be better prepared for the future risks.
Gando had chosen its leader wisely and were committed to following his directions. It has been nearly 20 years since an example was set for the world, where community consensus led to a sustainable and resilient framework. It might be challenging for other developing communities to work on the resilience of its people as part of sustainable development, but now we know that it is definitely possible.
In this TED talk, Diébédo Francis Kéré expresses his journey and challenges of building with clay and community.