Jul 17–Sep 9, 2021

Arbre à Palabres

Kéré Architecture, Berlon
Christinenstrasse 18-19, 10119 Berlin Map
Tue-Fri 11 am–6:30 pm, Sun-Mon 1–5 pm

Francis Kéré is a precise observer, excellent visionary and builder – his architecture is of radical simplicity. The architect, who was born in Burkina Faso and lives in Berlin, uniquely combines the culture and habits of the African and European continents. For his inspiring approach to architecture as well as his exceptional and distinct style, Kéré Architecture will be honoured with the AW Architect of the Year 2021 award. The installation Arbre à Palabres – the tree under which people meet to consult, to talk and to learn from each other – forms the programmatic context for the projects presented, such as the buildings for the national assemblies of Benin and Burkina Faso, the National Park of Mali, the Freie Waldorfschule Weilheim, the Burkina Institute of Technology or the Taylor Bridge in Mannheim, among others.

Arbre à Palabres presents planned and realized projects that illustrate how Francis Kéré and his team use social, political and construction knowledge from across West Africa to arrive at designs that focus on a building’s purpose and the people who use it. Under the expansive installation of an abstracted kapok tree, the projects are presented in three categories: Civic Dialogue, Creative Exchange and Inspired Education. Civic Dialogue brings together projects that explore ancient democratic practices of West African social structures, Creative Exchange showcases spaces that facilitate a distinct kind of cultural dialogue found in vernacular architecture and Inspired Education addresses a cornerstone of Kéré Architecture’s practice – namely educational infrastructures that embrace good design as an integral part of the learning experience.

1. Civic Dialogue
Inspired by the democratic practice of West African societies, dating back to pre-colonial times, of holding court, meetings and public conversations under a kapok tree, Kéré Architecture has designed civic and public structures allowing for a contemporary version of this practice. This is clearly visible in the typology of the design of the Benin National Assembly, which is in the planning stage, in the showcasing of landscapes from all over the country in the National Assembly of Burkina Faso, or by providing a green square, where all kinds of public exchange can take place in the National Park of Mali.

2. Creative Exchange
Some traditional building forms in West Africa are designed to foster a certain kind of dialogue. A prime example is the Toguna, a communal meeting place found in different variations throughout the region. These structures have low ceilings often made of wood and hay, ensuring that inside one can only stoop or sit, but not stand upright, making it virtually impossible to become physically aggressive in the course of the meeting. Kéré Architecture harnesses this ability of architecture to gently guide people towards peaceful gatherings for spaces of creative exchange, such as the visitors’ pavilion Xylem in Montana or the premises for a foundation in Switzerland aimed at businesses and cultural practitioners from all over Africa and the African diaspora.

3. Inspired Education
Ever since Kéré Architecture’s first school building, the Gando Primary School, the studio has been dedicated to designing educational infrastructure geared towards learning far beyond the content being taught. The design of the building and the choice of materials used in its construction follow a methodology aimed at creating a comfortable learning environment in terms of temperature and air quality while, according to Francis Kéré: "inspiring the mind to soar and the learners to dream." Most of these projects also allow for a continuous expansion of the campus as the need for infrastructure increases with each class and the growing number of students. This is the case with the Burkina Institute of Technology, the Startup Lions Campus in Kenya or the Naaba Belem Goumma Secondary School in Gando. Currently, Kéré Architecture is applying the experiences from building its inspiring schools in West and East Africa to upcoming projects in Europe, including the Freie Waldorfschule Weilheim, just outside Munich.

Dr. h.c. Kristin Feireiss Aedes, Berlin
Farrokh Derakhshani Director of the Aga Khan Award for Architecture, Genf
Francis Kéré Kéré Architecture, Berlin