All hail the new royal designer: the rise and rise of architect Francis Kéré


“WOW…wow…to be appointed as honorary Royal Designer of Industry, is a great honour to me,” exclaimed Kéré in an Instagram post, adding the recognition “goes straight to my heart.”

The Royal Designers for Industry (RDI) title is the top accolade for designers in the UK, with only 200 designers holding the title. Non-British designers may only become honorary Royal Designers.

“Recognised for his pioneering approach to design and sustainable modes of construction, his vocation to become an architect comes from a personal commitment to serve the community he grew up in,” RDI said.

“He has gone on to become one of the world’s most distinguished contemporary architects, with a vision that is at once utopian and pragmatic.”

Kéré’s award further highlights the continued cultural influence African creatives assert over the world’s architectural scene, music and art.

In March 2022, the Burkinabè architect made history as the first black recipient of the coveted Pritzker Architecture Prize – the profession’s equivalent of the Nobel Prize.

Born in the village of Gando in West Africa’s Burkina Faso, the 57-year-old has made a name for himself designing schools and medical facilities and is currently working on Benin’s new parliamentary building, a structure inspired by the palaver tree.

Kéré’s work embodies a deep appreciation of local environmental and social conditions and represents the adaptation and application of 21st Century engineering and technological advances to those conditions.

Whether in his termite-mound-inspired design for a college in Kenya or his wood-and-concrete design for a school in Burkina Faso, he is among African architects making waves by bringing an appreciation of local materials, construction techniques and design to their buildings.

This inspires other young African architects and gives the continent its design “moment”.

Kéré’s Pritzker award came from the ongoing EU-funded Afrobridge project, highlighting how architecture in sub-Saharan Africa influenced post-war modernism in Europe and North America.

Using newly declassified documents, the research will shed light on the spread of the design principles of African architecture among the members of the “Philadelphia school” and Europeans of the same generation.

It will culminate in the first comprehensive book and online platform on the topic, linking the “Western contact with traditional African architecture and the African imprint on Europe and America.”

“Readers and scholars will discover a rich and illuminating array of material on Africa and Western architecture from a period crucial to understanding the present time,” reads the Afrobridge website in part.

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