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More From Less #2: Diébédo Francis Kéré

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Meet Diébédo Francis Kéré.

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Here’s the quick bio from Wikipedia below and a 2005 Washington Post article here.

Diébédo Francis Kéré was born in 1965 in the village of Gando. He was the first child in the village to be sent to school as his father, the village chief, wanted his eldest son to learn how to read and translate his letters. Since no school existed in Gando, Kéré had to leave his family when he was 7 years old to live with his uncle in the city. After finishing his education, he became a carpenter and received a scholarship from the Carl Duisberg Society to do an apprenticeship in Germany as a supervisor in development aid. After completing the apprenticeship, he went on to study architecture at the Technical University of Berlin, graduating in 2004.

During his studies he felt it was his duty to contribute to his family and to the community which had supported him, and to give the next generation the opportunity to follow in his footsteps. In 1998, with the help of his friends, Kéré set up the association Schulbausteine für Gando, which loosely translates as “Building Blocks for Gando”, to fund the construction of a primary school for his village. His objective was to combine the knowledge he had gained in Europe, with traditional building methods from Burkina Faso. He completed his studies and built the first school in Gando as his diploma project in 2004, while also opening his own architectural office Kéré Architecture.

This is the village of Gando, in Burkina Faso.


This is that school. Men, women and children of Gando acquired the skills and provided the labor to build the school, which opened in October 2001.

Primary School Burkina Faso

The primary school was built out of mud bricks, something the community was initially somewhat skeptical about. They were concerned that a mud brick construction wouldn’t survive the rain season. But Kéré’s innovative design provided the solution. A wide, raised tin roof protects the walls from the rain, and allows air to circulate underneath in order to keep the building cool. The community was delighted to find the school still standing after ten years, and the building is much cooler and more pleasant to work in than the conventional concrete school buildings. 


The school is overflowing with 350 students, three times more than planned, and another 150 children want to attend, he said. Young people in the village are gathering materials for an expansion.

Burkina Faso school

This is the 2005 additional building.  



Housing was required, funded and built to attract teachers to the countryside.

The villagers produced around 15,000 blocks, each 40x20x10cm, at a rate of between 600 and 1,000 a day, gaining not only new skills but also a sense of responsibility, awareness and sensitivity to both the traditional and the innovative aspects of building.


There are other projects, all of which use the same principles.

A Secondary School (2007)  in Dano, Burkina Faso. (See also here.)


The Centre for Earth Architecture (2010) in Mali. 


Most recent is Secondary school with passive ventilation system, Gando, Burkina Faso. It won the Global Holcim Awards Gold 2012


and is currently under construction.

SecondarySchool3The project seeks to use resources sustainably in order to provide natural ventilation without any use of electricity. Low-tech, cost-effective pipes in the ground work as a sustainable, passive geothermal cooling system. The rich vegetation at ground level pre-filters the incoming air. This air is channelled through the underground pipes to cool the rooms via holes in the floor. The hot air in the classroom rises through openings in the ceiling into the space between the ceiling and roof cladding. The large, overhanging roof allows the wind to circulate freely in the space between ceiling and roof, providing a rapid exchange of air. Pressure differences between inlet and outlet increase the natural flow of air. Rain water will drip into the pipe from a basin integrated in the landscape.


There are many lessons to be learned here. Using locally-sourced and manufactured materials is not something abstract.  Keeping a building out of the sun in a hot climate is a sensible thing to do. Architecture with a social, community or humanitarian agenda is A Good Thing.

In the sketch above, Kéré has managed to use hardly anything to reproduce the ancient Persian passive cooling strategy mentioned in the post, It’s Not Rocket Science #6: The Stack Effect.

English: Diagram of a building cooled by a qan...
The principles of this system are still in use today
English: This solar chimney draws air through ...

But Kélé has managed to recreate it without even a wind tower or solar chimney to drive it. Some of the pressure differential is still created by the stack effect when there’s no wind, but, when there is, cross-ventilation creates a pressure differential and a Bernoulli effect to draw cooled air up from underground. An additional force driving the system is also created by the height difference between the air inlet and outlets. 

This is the same principle that Kleineidam, Ernst and Roces identified in their paper, ‘Wind-Induced Ventilation of the Giant Nests of the Leaf-Cutting Ant atta vellenweideri’ mentioned here on misfits’ and also here on asknature. Leafcutter ants have been doing this for 3 million years.


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What I like about Kéré’s architecture is that he uses and adapts the same devices again and again and adds other ideas to them to make them better. It doesnt matter whether the idea for the effective and inexpensive air conditioning was used by prehistoric ants or ancient Persians or is just inspiration. It works. It costs nothing. In a hot country in a place without electricity, his teachers’ houses for example, are known as “the refrigerator buildings”. Kéré is doing something that is very very right.

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This one principle of More From Less pervades our lives. The quest to achieve more from less operates in all spheres of human endeavour – sometimes explicitly, sometimes not. Driven by the desire for profit, it most certainly exists in the sphere of economic and financial activity. More From Less is also fundamental to agricultural and manufacturing activity. In the sphere of building activity, More From Less is often known as return on investment. With architectural aesthetics, it usually works to create the impression of having more (property, space or wealth) than one actually does. The lie of Miesian architecture and derivatives such as Pawsonesque minimalism was to falsely equate “less” with “few”, and “more” with “beauty”. Less did not refer to money. More did not refer to performance. The beauty of Kéré’s architecture is that they do.