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Francis Kéré - An Architect Between (excerpt)

Daniel Schwartz

Found in translation.

Winner of the prestigious Aga Khan Award in 2004 for this first built project, a primary school in his home village, consider himself an architecture activist. Now a film by Daniel Schwartz recounts his story and his vision: you can watch the full feature on Daniel’s VOD channel, at this link . The Architecture Player is glad to present an excerpt from the film.

"The work of Francis Kéré is at the forefront of a paradigm shift within architecture", says the presentation of "Francis Kéré: An architect between". "Globally, people are turning to designers to address intractable problems from poverty to climate change. Kéré seeks to do just this, using a mix of low tech with high design and working in partnership with the communities for whom he builds. This short film documents Kéré at the mid-point of an ascendant career, in action between his native Burkina Faso and Germany, as he plans a performance center for Syrian refugees."

Daniel Schwartz, the director of the film from which this excerpt is taken, was invited to make this film by the Architekturmuseum der TU München, that at the time was planning a mid-career retrospective on Francis's work. Ayca Beygo, curator of the exhibition, and the museum director, Andres Lepik, wished this exhibition to show more than just photos, drawings, and models. Even though, as Daniel suggested, videos are quite a common features in such contexts, as they are the perfect tool to illustrates the construction and evolution of a specific building in time, the 10-minute long film they had in mind was far more conventional than the one he ended up directing.

"Once we began pre-production, I proposed a significantly larger project scope. We ended up making three video installations and this 18-minute short. This quasi-explosion of content creation came from the admiration that Francis and his work inspire - his personal story, the projects that he and his team have completed, the integrity of his design-and-build processes, and the communities he builds for. There’s a lot of good storytelling to do."

During pre-production, Daniel spent a few days in Francis Kéré's Berlin office - the city he landed in for training and ended up living and growing for years, as the architect recalls in the video. Daniel wanted to include his team in the film, as he was inspired by how much activity and creativity was coming out of this young and international mix of people. It is maybe the passion that Kéré expresses that underlies and animates the film: you can have a taste of it when Kéré is talking about his ideas, about his ongoing projects, about his mentors, sitting in his Berlin office.

"Architecture is a collective activity, and I wanted to make sure that the film included multiple voices and illustrated the multiple villages (literally) it takes to realize this type of work," adds Daniel, who also explained The Architecture Player how producing this film felt intense, due to the multiple locations in which Schwartz accompanied Francis Kéré. In fact, the "architect between" is filmed between Europe and Burkina Faso, in Koudougou, where Francis Kéré had two projects under construction, and his home village of Gando, where Daniel tells us he saw him welcomed by a community that reveres him as a leader (he is a son of the former chief, after all).

Even from this point of vantage - being a revered personality in his home country - Francis Kéré is not feeling superior or comes out as distant: visiting the school he designed he asks students how they feel, he greets passers-by, in a word what means to him is just: community. This slow and ever on-going process he started with the school is of inspiration, both for the community living withing and around his projects and for the international architectural industry, who should - and does - look up and look in this kind of building processes.

"For me, the most impactful and complex scene in the film is a community meeting with nearly a hundred women from Gando, who came to discuss a stalled community center that Francis had started building several years previously, but had been stalled due to political instability and an Ebola outbreak elsewhere in the country," recounts Daniel. "The passion that was displayed in that meeting between Francis and these community members was palpably intense. There was a lot of mutual respect, but also a demand for action and responsibility. The scene testifies to the immense importance and difficulties of building in such contexts, and doing it with integrity over a long period of time."

"Francis has chosen to pursue a type of architecture that is a mixture of designing, community organizing, activism, sustainable engineering, economic empowerment, artistry, and cultural representation."
Between languages (in this excerpts only we hear Francis speaks at least four different languages), continents and activities, Kéré is in the middle of a long and game-changing career. This film offers the public a glimpse of what has been and what his work will become.

(Story by Sara Marzullo, The Architecture Player)


Architect: Francis Kéré (Kéré Architecture)
Mentioned projects: Centre de Santé et de Promotion Sociale (2014), Gando Primary School (2004), Opera Village (under construction)
Project location: Laongo and Gando, Burkina Faso; Berlin, Germany
Production: The Architekturmuseum der TUM and Gran Horizonte Media
Cinematography: Jonas Spriestersbach
Aerial and additional camera: Daniel Schwartz
Editing: Caroline Feder
Music: Podington Bear
Audio engeneering: Stef Birrer/Ton Manufaktur Zürich
Production assistance: Ayca Beygo, Leila Werem, Denis Zongo
With the support of: The Burkina Faso Ministry of Culture, Goethe Institut Ouagadougou

Switzerland 2019
Duration: 06'06" (excerpt)