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Diébédo Francis Kéré: How to build with clay ... and community

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Diébédo Francis Kéré knew exactly what he wanted to do when he got his degree in architecture... He wanted to go home to Gando in Burkina Faso, to help his neighbors reap the benefit of his education. In this charming talk, Kéré shows off some of the beautiful structures he's helped to build in his small village in the years since then, including an award-winning primary school made from clay by the entire community.

- Community-minded architect
Diébédo Francis Kéré and his architectural firm design buildings that are good for the environment -- and those who use them. Full bio

I would like to show you how
00:12
architecture has helped
00:15
to change the life of my community
00:18
and has opened opportunities to hope.
00:21
I am a native of Burkina Faso.
00:26
According to the World Bank, Burkina Faso
00:29
is one of the poorest countries in the world,
00:32
but what does it look like
00:35
to grow up in a place like that?
00:38
I am an example of that.
00:41
I was born in a little village called Gando.
00:44
In Gando, there was no electricity,
00:48
no access to clean drinking water, and no school.
00:52
But my father wanted me
00:57
to learn how to read and write.
00:59
For this reason, I had to leave my family
01:01
when I was seven and to stay in a city
01:06
far away from my village
01:09
with no contact with my family.
01:11
In this place I sat
01:15
in a class like that
01:19
with more than 150 other kids,
01:21
and for six years.
01:24
In this time, it just happened to me to come to school
01:27
to realize that my classmate died.
01:31
Today, not so much has changed.
01:37
There is still no electricity in my village.
01:41
People still are dying in Burkina Faso,
01:46
and access to clean drinking water
01:48
is still a big problem.
01:52
I had luck. I was lucky, because this is a fact of life
01:56
when you grow up in a place like that.
02:04
But I was lucky.
02:06
I had a scholarship.
02:09
I could go to Germany to study.
02:11
So now, I suppose,
02:15
I don't need to explain to you how great a privilege
02:19
it is for me to be standing before you today.
02:24
From Gando, my home village in Burkina Faso,
02:28
to Berlin in Germany to become an architect
02:32
is a big, big step.
02:37
But what to do with this privilege?
02:42
Since I was a student, I wanted to open up
02:47
better opportunities to other kids in Gando.
02:51
I just wanted to use my skills and build a school.
02:54
But how do you do it when you're still a student
02:57
and you don't have money?
03:00
Oh yes, I started to make drawings
03:02
and asked for money.
03:05
Fundraising was not an easy task.
03:07
I even asked my classmates
03:11
to spend less money on coffee and cigarettes,
03:13
but to sponsor my school project.
03:17
In real wonder, two years later,
03:20
I was able to collect 50,000 U.S. dollars.
03:24
When I came home to Gando
03:30
to bring the good news,
03:33
my people were over the moon,
03:35
but when they realized
03:39
that I was planning to use clay,
03:41
they were shocked.
03:44
"A clay building is not able to stand a rainy season,
03:46
and Francis wants us to use it and build a school.
03:50
Is this the reason why he spent so much time
03:55
in Europe studying
03:58
instead of working in the field with us?"
04:00
My people build all the time with clay,
04:04
but they don't see any innovation with mud.
04:08
So I had to convince everybody.
04:13
I started to speak with the community,
04:15
and I could convince everybody,
04:19
and we could start to work.
04:21
And the women, the men,
04:24
everybody from the village,
04:26
was part of this building process.
04:28
I was allowed to use even traditional techniques.
04:30
So clay floor for example,
04:34
the young men come and stand like that, beating,
04:36
hours for hours,
04:40
and then their mothers came,
04:42
and they are beating in this position,
04:43
for hours, giving water and beating.
04:47
And then the polishers come.
04:52
They start polishing it with a stone for hours.
04:53
And then you have this result,
04:58
very fine, like a baby bottom.
05:03
(Laughter)
05:07
It's not photoshopped. (Laughter)
05:08
This is the school, built with the community.
05:14
The walls are totally made out
05:17
of compressed clay blocks from Gando.
05:19
The roof structure is made
05:23
with cheap steel bars
05:26
normally hiding inside concrete.
05:29
And the classroom, the ceiling is made
05:32
out of both of them used together.
05:36
In this school, there was a simple idea:
05:38
to create comfort in a classroom.
05:41
Don't forget, it can be 45 degrees in Burkina Faso,
05:45
so with simple ventilation,
05:50
I wanted to make the classroom
05:52
good for teaching and learning.
05:54
And this is the project today,
05:57
12 years old, still in best condition.
06:00
And the kids, they love it.
06:03
And for me and my community,
06:09
this project was a huge success.
06:12
It has opened up opportunities
06:16
to do more projects in Gando.
06:19
So I could do a lot of projects,
06:21
and here I am going to share with you
06:24
only three of them.
06:27
The first one is the school extension, of course.
06:29
How do you explain drawings and engineering
06:33
to people who are neither able to read nor write?
06:36
I started to build a prototype like that.
06:40
The innovation was to build a clay vault.
06:43
So then, I jumped on the top like that,
06:46
with my team, and it works.
06:49
The community is looking. It still works.
06:51
So we can build. (Laughter)
06:53
And we kept building, and that is the result.
06:56
The kids are happy, and they love it.
07:00
The community is very proud. We made it.
07:04
And even animals, like these donkeys,
07:08
love our buildings.
07:12
(Laughter)
07:14
The next project is the library in Gando.
07:18
And see now, we tried to introduce
07:22
different ideas in our buildings,
07:26
but we often don't have so much material.
07:28
Something we have in Gando are clay pots.
07:32
We wanted to use them to create openings.
07:36
So we just bring them like you can see
07:39
to the building site.
07:41
we start cutting them,
07:43
and then we place them on top of the roof
07:46
before we pour the concrete,
07:49
and you have this result.
07:51
The openings are letting the hot air out
07:53
and light in.
07:56
Very simple.
07:58
My most recent project in Gando
08:00
is a high school project.
08:03
I would like to share with you this.
08:05
The innovation in this project
08:07
is to cast mud like you cast concrete.
08:09
How do you cast mud?
08:14
We start making a lot of mortars, like you can see,
08:16
and when everything is ready,
08:19
when you know what is the best recipe
08:21
and the best form,
08:23
you start working with the community.
08:25
And sometimes I can leave.
08:27
They will do it themselves.
08:29
I came to speak to you like that.
08:31
Another factor in Gando is rain.
08:35
When the rains come,
08:37
we hurry up to protect our fragile walls
08:39
against the rain.
08:42
Don't confound with Christo and Jeanne-Claude.
08:45
It is simply how we protect our walls.
08:48
(Laughter)
08:51
The rain in Burkina comes very fast,
08:52
and after that, you have floods
08:55
everywhere in the country.
08:58
But for us, the rain is good.
09:00
It brings sand and gravel to the river
09:04
we need to use to build.
09:07
We just wait for the rain to go.
09:10
We take the sand, we mix it with clay,
09:12
and we keep building.
09:15
That is it.
09:18
The Gando project was always
connected to training the people,
09:20
because I just wanted, one day
09:23
when I fall down and die,
09:26
that at least one person from Gando
09:29
keeps doing this work.
09:32
But you will be surprised. I'm still alive.
09:36
(Laughter)
09:39
And my people now can use their skills
09:40
to earn money themselves.
09:43
Usually, for a young man from Gando to earn money,
09:48
you have to leave the country
09:52
to the city, sometimes leave the country
09:54
and some never come back,
09:58
making the community weaker.
10:00
But now they can stay in the country
10:03
and work on different building sites
10:07
and earn money to feed their family.
10:09
There's a new quality in this work.
10:11
Yes, you know it.
10:16
I have won a lot of awards through this work.
10:18
For sure, it has opened opportunities.
10:23
I have become myself known.
10:26
But the reason why I do what I do
10:29
is my community.
10:34
When I was a kid,
10:37
I was going to school,
10:39
I was coming back every holiday to Gando.
10:41
By the end of every holidays,
10:45
I had to say goodbye to the community,
10:47
going from one compound to another one.
10:50
All women in Gando will open their clothes like that
10:54
and give me the last penny.
10:59
In my culture, this is a symbol of deep affection.
11:03
As a seven-year-old guy, I was impressed.
11:08
I just asked my mother one day,
11:11
"Why do all these women love me so much?"
11:14
(Laughter)
11:17
She just answered,
11:18
"They are contributing to pay for your education
11:21
hoping that you will be successful
11:25
and one day come back and help
11:28
improve the quality of life of the community."
11:31
I hope now that I was able
to make my community proud
11:35
through this work,
11:40
and I hope I was able to prove you the power
11:42
of community,
11:46
and to show you that architecture
11:47
can be inspiring for communities
11:51
to shape their own future.
11:56
Merci beaucoup. (Applause)
11:58
Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.
12:00
Thank you. Thank you. (Applause)
12:05

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About the speaker:

Diébédo Francis Kéré - Community-minded architect
Diébédo Francis Kéré and his architectural firm design buildings that are good for the environment -- and those who use them.

Why you should listen

Diébédo Francis Kéré grew up in Gando, a small village in Burkina Faso. Having gone away to school, first within his country and then at the Technische Universität in Berlin, Germany, he resolved to give back to the community that raised him. He does that through the power of architecture.

Through his firm, Kéré Architecture, Kéré focuses on using local building materials and techniques in a modern way, to redefine and redesign the enviroment. In Burkina Faso, that means working predominantly with clay, and his innovative approach has seen the creation of remarkably beautiful, modern buildings that are entirely appropriate to the setting.

His first building, a primary school in Gando, was completed in 2001 and received the Aga Khan Award for Architecture. Since then, he has designed other structures for the village; his other work there has also won multiple awards, including the Global Award, the BSI Swiss Architectural Award, the Marcus Prize and the Global Holcim Award Gold 2012.

Kéré also teaches architecture; he has lectured at colleges including the University of Wisconsin Milwaukee, and Harvard. In 2013, he began teaching at the Accademia di Architettura in Mendrisio, Switzerland.

More profile about the speaker
Diébédo Francis Kéré | Speaker | TED.com