On Thursday afternoon, after a host of presentations and panels on the latest advances in design and construction technology—including motion-tracking vehicular headlights and solar-power-harnessing curtains—architect Francis Kéré took the stage at the 10th Architectural Record Innovation Conference to upend preconceptions about what "innovation" is in the digital age. A native of the west African nation Burkina Faso and founder of a Berlin-based practice, Kéré takes a decidedly analog approach to the schools, community centers, and libraries in his hometown of Gando.

Working in the village, he said, often means convincing his community to embrace traditional clay-brickmaking techniques for new buildings. The misconception is that these modes of building are somehow anti-modern because they don’t follow the steel-frame norm of western construction. But Kéré made an impressive case for innovating by building on these long-established traditions, in a presentation that showed off his work on a primary school, a women’s community center, and… an opera village?

“Yes, we are building an opera village in the middle of nowhere,” Kéré said to laughter from the audience, as a satellite image of the sparsely populated region around Gando flashed across the screen. The idea, Kéré explained, is to provide pavilions for music education, performance, and community events on the 34-acre site, which was commissioned by the late German filmmaker and artist Christoph Schlingensief. It will also include housing.

Kéré closed with an anecdote about a recent commission for a museum in Geneva for the International Red Cross. The organization asked the architect to create a scheme of his signature compressed clay brick but he quickly realized “that what costs 70,000 Euros in Burkina Faso is quite a bit more expensive in Switzerland.” Kéré will have to change his plan, but the spirit of his work—that of scrappy ingenuity—will likely remain.

For more about the Gando Opera Village, visit Opendorf-Afrika.com/en/the-project.html

Visit Francis Kéré online at kere-architecture.com