Francis Kéré: A Thought About Complexity


The Francis Kéré lecture hosted by the Architectural League of New York on February 9th gave me a thought about the complexity of architecture. Francis Kéré's work in Burkina Faso is extraordinary for its social impact, use of local resources and pureness of aesthetic. It is also extraordinary how simple and transparent his work is. Mainly centered in his home village of Gando, he provides new school facilities and teacher housing for the community. Born to a father who was chief of the village and given the opportunity to study in Germany, Kéré is able to blend Western architectural thought with a first-hand knowledge of the needs and concerns for Gando. His work is definitely worth a look and more information about his organization can be found at

The question in my mind is how does Kéré produce such valuable pieces of architecture without traditional Western construction methods, contemporary materials or a skilled workforce? The answer may lie in how most Westerners, including myself, are trained. Westerners are trained to approach architecture with a certain level of complexity. Initially, one develops a design concept responding either aesthetically, programmatically, mathematically, etc. The design concept is then rationalized by an analysis and use of external data that led to the solution (i.e. computational algorithms to express a form). Then, the following step is to make the design concept work by pulling from a knowledge database for how to put a building together. This process ends up being complex.

Kéré does this differently. He devises a building on how it will be built, and by whom. Once he knows how the labor force will build the building and with what materials, the design is uncovered. When one looks at the images of Kéré's work, it is truly transparent. One can see how it is built. He used construction methods familiar to the workers, materials found on site or already a part of the village, and the skill of the workers to accomplish the project.

Kéré's work reminds me that some of the best architecture in this world is simple. The pureness of how it is accomplished is what excels. His projects work not because of sleek detailing, innovative technologies, or high-skilled workers. They work because of knowledge for his village’s capabilities combined with an enthusiasm difficult to find in the Western world today.

A pod cast of Francis Kéré’s lecture should be made available shortly on the Architectural League’s web site.

Posted by Kenneth Miraski