The Responsive Architecture of Gando School Library, Burkina Faso by Diebedo Francis Kere

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One of the mitigating factors for building development in rural Africa has been blamed on finance, and the lack of appropriate skills. I personally think that while these factors do exist, the ability of professionals to think outside the box, or better yet, use what they have within the box is a genuine game changer.

A good case study in this case is the Gando Primary school and its extension designed and built by Francis Kere in rural Gando, Burkina Faso. Growing up as a child, he had to travel 40km to the neighbouring village to go to a school with poor lighting and ventilation. The difficulty of having to learn under such harsh conditions made a very strong impression on him that while he was studying Architecture in Germany, he decided to use his acquired knowledge to build a new school for his village. The Primary school project was designed in 1999, a year after he established his charitable foundation, “Bricks for Gando”. Despite major economic and logistical challenges, he was able to begin construction of the school through the support of his community and the funds he raised from his foundation.

The design took a number of factors into consideration including “cost, climate, resource availability and construction feasibility. The consideration of these key factors influenced the choice of materials with the aim of achieving sustainability. They adopted the use of a “clay/mud hybrid construction” as clay is easily available, affordable, and very suitable for the climate.

Purposed to be climate responsive the school had three classrooms arranged linearly and seperated with a covered outdoor area which doubles as an additional space for playing and teaching. Structurally, he used traditional load-bearing stabilised and compressed earth/clay blocks for the walls with concrete beams running across the width of the ceiling. Steel bars were laid across the beams to support the ceiling (also made of compressed earth blocks with perforations). He incorporated a ventilationa strategy into the roof by pulling the hot tin roof away from the perforated brick ceiling through specially crafted lightweight trusses made from regular construction steelbars. Cool air would flow inside the classroom through the windows, while the hot air flows up and escapes through the perforated ceiling to the outside space. Thus, eliminating the need for air conditioning. The roof had a deep overhang to protect the earth bricks from rain and create more shade from the sun.

The school was completed in 2001, and it received the Aga Khan Award for architecture for its “elegant and simple design using basic construction techniques”. All the people involved in the project construction were native to the village, and the skills learned here were applied to subsequent initiatives in the village and elsewhere.


2 years after the completion, an extension was needed to meet the increased demand of children to attend the school. Following the success of the primary school, the extension was built with the same materials, methods and principles. He also used the same ventilation strategy of pulling the roof away from the perforated ceiling. However he modified the horizontal perforated ceiling into a vault shape with gaps within the brick pattern of the ceiling. This formed a breathing surface that pulls cool air into the classroom through the windows and hot air through the ceiling. The extension also had the characteristic deep overhang to protect the brick walls from rain.

Colourful louver-style windows.
Interior of the classroom showing the openings in the classroom.

I consider the Primary school a huge success for so many reasons, one of which is that it was his first building and he started and completed it while he was still a student. Also, his ingenuity in the use of locally sourced materials in such a fine way is utterly genius and very inspiring. As a result of the brilliance of the primary school project and his other projects in Burkina Faso he was given an honorary fellowship for the American Institute of Architects and a membership of the Royal institute of British Architects as well as the Academia di Architettura di Mendrisio.

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