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Where does modern architecture stand now, nearly 90 years after the International Exhibition of 1932? Still being based on similar principles, the architectural vision has been transformed, shifting away from visual concepts and prioritizing its purpose. Following the practices of the founders of the Modern Style, Le Corbusier, Walter Gropius, Mies van der Rohe, and J.J.P. Oud, a new generation of architects created not only exceptionally modern-looking entities but buildings that are problem-solving and even innovative solutions. German-trained architect Francis Kere, using his study, constructed a primary school in Gando, the city he was born in. The school building became an icon to the new vision of modern architecture that in comparison to the mid-20th-century architecture represents a design that is not just a structure but a part of a better lifestyle and a new custom.

Gando primary school was the first professional architecture designed by Francis Kere and the building has not only changed the architectural approach locally but became a world-wide image of modern and sustainable practice. The school is a three-classroom building with

Figure 1: Gando Primary School. Photo by Simeon Duchoud

an outdoor lounge area in between rooms fully covered with an elevated roof. The building was constructed to expand the number of educational institutions in the city of Gando also solving typical of that region's problems such as poor lighting and ventilation. Kere also wanted to bring concepts of a modern movement into the traditional esthetic of his hometown in Burkina Faso. The school at the end did reflect a modern vision of a form, a form determined by its function. In every element Kere was mindful of the community he is building for, mindful of a climate and environment, cost, and resources. The materials and labor are both sourced locally. Familiarized with the traditional craftsman skills, Kere developed a technique that would be clear-cut to the community. As for the materials, he decided to use mostly clay and bricks. Clay is a great thermal insulant and perfect solution in hot climates. Also to preserve the cool temperature inside, Kere applied a technique of dry-stacking bricks on the ceiling creating a natural way of air circulation. Cool air flows through the windows and, when getting warm, it escapes through the holes between bricks on the ceiling, thus keeping hot air out of the space. However, that isn’t only an issue in the climate of Gando. Heavy rains are a very frequent phenomenon there thus Kere decided to use a traditional metal roof to cover the structure. To prevent it from overheating under the sun, the roof has been elevated and set on the metal structure, not only protecting the building from the rain but also creating an additional air corridor for better ventilation. The rooms have multiple windows bringing the light in but not allowing direct sunlight to heat the space by using horizontal blinds. Kere, following traditional craftsmanship, built the school with a modern approach in mind. All the elements of the building have been chosen for a reason and work with each other to serve a purpose as a whole, to become a comfortable place that would not only educate but also inspire the children of Ganda.

The modern movement has been evolving from the time of the International Exhibition in New York until the moment of designing of the Gando Primary School. Michael Speaks noted in his article Intelligence After Theory: “If philosophy was the intellectual dominant of early 20th century vanguards and theory the intellectual dominant of late 20th century vanguards, then intelligence has become the intellectual dominant of early 21st-century post-vanguards.” The design intelligence of architect Francis Kere is not only problem-solving but, moreover, innovative. The primary school is modern not only by its principles but also by some of its visual characteristics. The lack of decorative elements exposes the structure showcasing traditional clay and bricks. Observing the building the materials and the constructing technique can be easily noted thus being not only visually outstanding but also educational. Even though this building was constructed out of very conventional materials, its flexibility and modern look were also achieved by the use of the metal system that holds the roof giving it a feeling of a free-flowing canopy over a rigid structure. Kere purposely applied only traditionally used and natural materials of the region of Gando, however, even though the materials are not modern, they were implemented in a very innovative way achieving both a concept of sustainability and a modern look of the building.

Bauhaus School faculty housing by Walter Gropius very unlike Gando Primary School represents a more conventional Modern Style and was designed in a completely different location, however still having a similar purpose, concept, and principle of a form and its function. Both Gropius and Kere designing their buildings thought of a problem in architecture at a particular time and place, creating a modern image of construction that is reasonable and sustainable. Both buildings have an educational purpose that shaped their functionality. Kere and Gropius have developed new techniques with the idea of populating a modern style that is accessible and affordable.

In the case of Bauhaus, Gropius was working in the poor post-war architectural environment that demanded a change and not only in Germany but in a global arena. Kere experienced an early education in a poor village of Burkina Faso, and when pursuing a bachelor

Figure 2: Bauhaus Masters Houses

degree in Europe he recognized an urgency for change in the development process of his hometown. He had decided to not only bring a modern vision through a single building but also educate and revolutionize the architectural methods. Both buildings are not just a single modern style structure but also a representation of the blueprints that by following guidelines can be repopulated in a myriad of forms. They demonstrate an innovative technique and an idea of each architect creating a new way of building that would be affordable and, at the same time, innovative.

Namata Serumaga-Musisi in his article “Bauhaus Already Lives Here and Why the World Still Doesn’t Know It” quoted MASS design group presentation at the UN: “As Africa’s cities experience explosive growth, it is these human-centered African designers who will build new cities in a socially and ecologically sustainable way,” also referring to Francis Kere as one of the examples of designers who bring ideas of Bauhaus into African development. While the entire world went through so many changes, now, when Africa is growing so rapidly, the innovative vision of such architects as Francis Kere establishes a solid foundation for sustainable designs with the simplicity of a modern look.

  1. Speaks M. (2006). Intelligence After Theory, Architecture after All, (38), 101–106
  2. Serumaga-Musisi N. (2016). Bauhaus Already Lives Here and Why the World Still Doesn’t Know It, Transition, 119, 5–8



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