Magazine article New African

Burkinabe Architect Kere's Unique Vision Celebrated in London

Magazine article New African

Burkinabe Architect Kere's Unique Vision Celebrated in London

Article excerpt

Each year, London's most popular contemporary art gallery, the Serpentine, located in the city's Kensington Gardens, invites a leading global artist to create their first structure in the capital, dubbed the Pavilion, which becomes a major visitor attraction during the summer. This year, the unique honour was bestowed on an Afrian architect--Burkina Faso's Francis Kere.

Diebedo Francis Kere's marvellous Serpentine Pavilion has 'landed' like a glorious African spaceship on the manicured lawns of London's Kensington Gardens.

Kere (right), who heads a Berlin-based practice, Kere Architecture, is the 17th international architect to accept the invitation of the Serpentine Gallery to create a temporary Pavilion in its grounds.

The concept of this annual commission is for a leading global architect to create his or her first structure in London. Each Pavilion, which is in place for about four months, is a leading visitor attraction during London's summer season.

The Pavilion, which opened in June, has attracted rave reviews in the national newspapers and on television shows. It has become a 'must visit' site for the capital's millions of visitors as well as locals.

Kere says: 'I have an overwhelming feeling of honour, what with the long list of respected architects who have designed the Pavilion in the past; and also because London is one of the most important cities for design.

"I am fascinated by how the artificial landscape of this grand park offers a new way for people in the city to experience nature. In Burkina Faso, I am accustomed to being confronted with climate and natural landscape as a harsh reality."

Kere has created a Pavilion that aims to connect visitors to nature, and to each other. A soaring wooden roof, supported by a delicate central steel framework, references the canopy of a great tree and its trunk, and allows air to circulate freely during the sometimes hot, humid English summer, and provides shelter from the alternating rain. When the heavens do open, an oculus funnels water to create a spectacular waterfall effect, before it is drained away for use irrigating the park.

The Pavilion has four entry points into its central courtyard, where visitors can perch on wooden stools, and ideally share with each other the striking and unusual beauty of the building.

"My architecture is intended to serve human beings, but also to involve them with nature, which is always a leitmotif for me. In my home town in Burkina Faso, during the heat of midday, everyone gathers under a huge, shady tree and converses with each other. So I used the tree as an inspiration for the Pavilion.

"I am interested in exploring new ways of using materials, especially those that are local to the site. We chose to use wood for the Serpentine Pavilion, not only because it's sustainable, economical and locally available, but also, by adjusting the angle of the cut wood [for the ceiling spokes], we added depth and shadows."

By day, the effect is lyrical--pools of dappled shadows inside, which move when a cloud passes overhead. "Light is fundamental, it shows the presence of energy, and that presence is carefully studied. This is how architecture becomes dynamic," he says. At night the Pavilion 'spaceship' looks like it's going to take off, emitting twinkling lights.

The walls of the Pavilion, which are perforated to provide ventilation, are painted indigo blue. "This colour is important in my culture. For an important date, both young men and women have to wear indigo blue--it's the colour of celebration," Kere explains.

The beginning

Kere was born in the hot dusty town of Gando in Burkina Faso. He was the eldest son of the town's chief. He left home at seven years old to attend primary school far away, leaving his family, friends and close-knit community.

When he asked his mother why, she told him that: "The community is contributing to your education. …

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