It is April at last, and, though life and work are returning to a new kind of normal after two years of Covid, other enormous troubles loom. Most urgent is the destruction and brutality inflicted by Russia on the population of Ukraine—among the civilians killed are many children—as the citizens choose to resist in support of their democracy.
And just days after Russia began its invasion of Ukraine came more ominous news, in the form of a 3,500-page report from the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). Based on the work of 270 researchers in 67 countries, it is probably the most detailed account of what’s in store for the planet if global temperatures continue to rise unabated: hundreds of millions of people will suffer and die from heat waves, floods, droughts, and starvation, as well as from diseases such as malaria and dengue fever that will spread beyond the tropics, with the poorest nations hardest hit. Said Simon Stiell, environment minister of the island of Grenada, “The report is terrifying. There is no other way of saying it.”
While the wealthiest nations once pledged $100 billion a year to enable countries in the developing world to adapt to the climate crisis, the actual funding has fallen far short. Reached by The New York Times, John Kerry, President Biden’s special envoy for climate change, admitted, “Every country needs to do more [to address] both adaptation and resilience.” Yet our own efforts to drastically reduce carbon emissions at home have been blunted by politics—and we seem unable even to acknowledge that the clock is ticking. Hans-Otto Pörtner, one of the scientists who led the UN report, put it baldly: “Any further delay in concerted global action will miss a brief and rapidly closing window to secure a livable future.”
Are you distressed yet? Read a summary of the IPCC report at ipcc.ch/report/sixth-assessment-report-working-group-ii/.
So we badly needed a glimmer of good news, and we got it with the announcement of this year’s Pritzker Prize laureate: Diébédo Francis Kéré. For us at RECORD, his honor is long overdue: we are proud to have covered his remarkable work for many years. Though known for schools and community centers in his native Burkina Faso—not the glamorous museums and institutions that have elevated most previous Pritzker winners—he creates projects as beautifully designed as they are socially conscious, engaging their surroundings and the people who use them in both a humane and sustainable manner. Those values will doubtless be embedded in the larger-scale commissions now in his Berlin office (he splits his time between Germany and Burkina Faso); they include a tower in Munich and the National Assembly in Benin, under construction, which he conceived as symbolic of “the idea of gathering together under a big tree to fix problems.”
Kéré’s own story is remarkable: as the oldest son of the chief, he was sent to school in a nearby town when he was 7 years old—a painful wrench that made him want to build a school for children right in his own village of Gando (now an expanded campus that includes a secondary school, a library, and teachers’ housing). He won a vocational scholarship to Germany to learn carpentry, which eventually led to his entry to architecture school in Berlin, where he earned a degree in 2004, the same year he won his first international honor, an Aga Khan Award, for the Gando primary school.
Anyone who has met Kéré knows him for his charismatic yet kind and energetic presence: speaking at one of RECORD’s Innovation conferences, he pounded the floor and jumped off the stage into the audience in the midst of making a point. And in a profession in which humility is in short supply, Kéré is modest in the extreme: after he heard he’d won the Pritzker, he told RECORD, “I woke up the next day and thought, ‘It’s a dream.’ ”
So kudos to the Pritzker jury for acknowledging an architect of such unusual gifts. He is the first Black laureate and the first from an African nation. As the continent with the world’s youngest population—and with particular vulnerability to the effects of ecological degradation—Africa is vital to the global future. We need figures like Kéré who can help create a more hopeful, sustainable built environment in the 21st century.