Diébédo Francis Kéré
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I would like to show you how architecture has helped to change the life of my community and has opened opportunities to hope.

I am a native of Burkina Faso. According to the World Bank, Burkina Faso is one of the poorest countries in the world, but what does it look like to grow up in a place like that? I am an example of that. I was born in a little village called Gando. In Gando, there was no electricity, no access to clean drinking water, and no school. But my father wanted me to learn how to read and write. For this reason, I had to leave my family when I was seven and to stay in a city far away from my village with no contact with my family. In this place I sat in a class like that with more than 150 other kids, and for six years. In this time, it just happened to me to come to school to realize that my classmate died.

Today, not so much has changed. There is still no electricity in my village. People still are dying in Burkina Faso, and access to clean drinking water is still a big problem.

I had luck. I was lucky, because this is a fact of life when you grow up in a place like that. But I was lucky. I had a scholarship. I could go to Germany to study.

So now, I suppose, I don't need to explain to you how great a privilege it is for me to be standing before you today. From Gando, my home village in Burkina Faso, to Berlin in Germany to become an architect is a big, big step. But what to do with this privilege? Since I was a student, I wanted to open up better opportunities to other kids in Gando. I just wanted to use my skills and build a school. But how do you do it when you're still a student and you don't have money? Oh yes, I started to make drawings and asked for money. Fundraising was not an easy task. I even asked my classmates to spend less money on coffee and cigarettes, but to sponsor my school project. In real wonder, two years later, I was able to collect 50,000 U.S. dollars.

When I came home to Gando to bring the good news, my people were over the moon, but when they realized that I was planning to use clay, they were shocked.

"A clay building is not able to stand a rainy season, and Francis wants us to use it and build a school. Is this the reason why he spent so much time in Europe studying instead of working in the field with us?"

My people build all the time with clay, but they don't see any innovation with mud. So I had to convince everybody. I started to speak with the community, and I could convince everybody, and we could start to work. And the women, the men, everybody from the village, was part of this building process. I was allowed to use even traditional techniques. So clay floor for example, the young men come and stand like that, beating, hours for hours, and then their mothers came, and they are beating in this position, for hours, giving water and beating. And then the polishers come. They start polishing it with a stone for hours. And then you have this result, very fine, like a baby bottom. (Laughter) It's not photoshopped. (Laughter) This is the school, built with the community. The walls are totally made out of compressed clay blocks from Gando. The roof structure is made with cheap steel bars normally hiding inside concrete. And the classroom, the ceiling is made out of both of them used together.

In this school, there was a simple idea: to create comfort in a classroom. Don't forget, it can be 45 degrees in Burkina Faso, so with simple ventilation, I wanted to make the classroom good for teaching and learning. And this is the project today, 12 years old, still in best condition. And the kids, they love it.

And for me and my community, this project was a huge success. It has opened up opportunities to do more projects in Gando. So I could do a lot of projects, and here I am going to share with you only three of them.

The first one is the school extension, of course. How do you explain drawings and engineering to people who are neither able to read nor write? I started to build a prototype like that. The innovation was to build a clay vault. So then, I jumped on the top like that, with my team, and it works. The community is looking. It still works. So we can build. (Laughter) And we kept building, and that is the result. The kids are happy, and they love it. The community is very proud. We made it. And even animals, like these donkeys, love our buildings. (Laughter)

The next project is the library in Gando. And see now, we tried to introduce different ideas in our buildings, but we often don't have so much material. Something we have in Gando are clay pots. We wanted to use them to create openings. So we just bring them like you can see to the building site. we start cutting them, and then we place them on top of the roof before we pour the concrete, and you have this result. The openings are letting the hot air out and light in. Very simple.

My most recent project in Gando is a high school project. I would like to share with you this. The innovation in this project is to cast mud like you cast concrete. How do you cast mud? We start making a lot of mortars, like you can see, and when everything is ready, when you know what is the best recipe and the best form, you start working with the community. And sometimes I can leave. They will do it themselves. I came to speak to you like that.

Another factor in Gando is rain. When the rains come, we hurry up to protect our fragile walls against the rain. Don't confound with Christo and Jeanne-Claude. It is simply how we protect our walls. (Laughter) The rain in Burkina comes very fast, and after that, you have floods everywhere in the country. But for us, the rain is good. It brings sand and gravel to the river we need to use to build. We just wait for the rain to go. We take the sand, we mix it with clay, and we keep building. That is it.

The Gando project was always connected to training the people, because I just wanted, one day when I fall down and die, that at least one person from Gando keeps doing this work. But you will be surprised. I'm still alive. (Laughter)

And my people now can use their skills to earn money themselves. Usually, for a young man from Gando to earn money, you have to leave the country to the city, sometimes leave the country and some never come back, making the community weaker. But now they can stay in the country and work on different building sites and earn money to feed their family. There's a new quality in this work.

Yes, you know it. I have won a lot of awards through this work. For sure, it has opened opportunities. I have become myself known. But the reason why I do what I do is my community.

When I was a kid, I was going to school, I was coming back every holiday to Gando. By the end of every holidays, I had to say goodbye to the community, going from one compound to another one. All women in Gando will open their clothes like that and give me the last penny. In my culture, this is a symbol of deep affection. As a seven-year-old guy, I was impressed. I just asked my mother one day, "Why do all these women love me so much?" (Laughter) She just answered, "They are contributing to pay for your education hoping that you will be successful and one day come back and help improve the quality of life of the community." I hope now that I was able to make my community proud through this work, and I hope I was able to prove you the power of community, and to show you that architecture can be inspiring for communities to shape their own future.

Merci beaucoup. (Applause) Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. (Applause)