Since winning an Aga Khan Award for Architecture in 2004, Diébédo Francis Kéré has continued to garner accolades for his simple yet elegant work in his native country, Burkina Faso. One such honor—the BSI Swiss Architectural Award, given biennially by the BSI Architectural Foundation (a philanthropic arm of BSI Bank), with support from the Academy of Architecture in Mendrisio and the Federal Office for Culture in Bern—led to the publication of this engaging book. The international award recognizes architects age 50 or younger who create sustainable architecture with aesthetic merit. Paraguay’s Solano Benitez was the first laureate, in 2008. Two years later, Kéré won the coveted 100,000-Swiss-franc prize, beating 27 other finalists, including Bjarke Ingels and Sou Fujimoto.
Kéré’s work is closely and fondly examined in this book, edited by architectural historian Nicola Navone. It features essays (in Italian and English) about Kéré by Mario Botta and Navone, supplemented by striking photographs of the people, landscapes, and buildings of Burkina Faso.
Navone’s piece focuses on four projects by Kéré: a primary school, its expansion, and adjacent teacher housing in the architect’s home village, Gando; and a secondary school in Dano, another village in the impoverished country. Kéré’s stunning work—at once beautiful and pragmatic—reminds us “how rich plain architecture can be,” Navone writes. Botta, who served as jury chair, reveals the thinking behind selecting Kéré. Rather than choosing a Western architect who employs “cutting-edge technical and structural innovations,” Botta writes, the jurors went with Kéré “for his intelligent, quintessential architecture, which avoids all concessions to super-structural elements.” Moreover, his projects use local materials and labor, which in turn boosts living conditions.
The book is not solely devoted to Kéré. Three projects by each finalist are included; Ingels’s entry, for instance, features The Mountain and 8 House, both in Copenhagen, and the Danish Pavilion at the 2010 Shanghai World Expo. The finalists get four pages apiece, their work depicted in drawings, photographs, and brief summaries. Ultimately, hundreds of projects are presented in the book, yet the compilation never feels cluttered or arduous, thanks to its clean layout and clear organization. (Andrea Lancellotti did the graphic design, while Tiziano Casartelli provided editorial coordination.)
A goal of the BSI Swiss Architectural Award is to bring sustainable architecture and young talent to the forefront. This book certainly helps accomplish that goal. After absorbing this extensive global survey, from humble schools in West Africa to ambitious housing developments in Europe, the reader is left feeling optimistic about the future of design—and thankful for awards that honor architecture with substance.