Architecture with Purpose; A Close Look At Francis Kere’s Canopy Installation

I believe that good architecture is not without reason. As such, whatever is visible enough for the eyes to see should have a clear purpose behind it.

Even when it comes to installations; a dramatic 3-dimensional creation that could be perceived as art or is a form of art, purpose is what differentiates it from architecture. Most times you see an artist installation, you try to understand it. Most times, you get lost in the process. For an architect’s installation, purpose is what makes all the difference. And in this case, Francis Kere’s. I love to describe Diebedo Francis Kere architecture as “architecture with purpose”, from the choice of material to the principles of design. One would easily say his forms follow their functions, but maybe not too authoritatively, because physically speaking we’re not in his mind. But by studying his work, we get some understanding to his processes and reasonings. You can’t separate the brilliance from it. It’s quite evident and aspirational at best.

His canopy installation in Denmark was done to emphasize the importance of trees in the environment. How they protect us from overexposure to the sun. Something you will understand if you live in Africa and have experienced the “excitedness of the sun”. That feeling you get when you find yourself looking for some shade and wishing the road had a little more trees. Or the obvious difference in temperature and comfort when you get off the shade of a tree into the nakedness of space with nothing separating you from the sun’s rays. One would wonder, like I have so many times, what the reason could possibly be behind developers’ complete disregard of these sheltering members of the environment. To cut them off so mindlessly, you begin to feel they’re heartless. Maybe they are, maybe they’re not, or maybe they just don’t know better. Oh, and let’s not forget that somehow, trees happen to stimulte or facilitate communal gatherings (we all know the “gists” that goes on “under the tree”). Hence, architecture with purpose, or in a broader context, design with purpose.

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Below the canapy, a gathering of people resembling a communal gathering of people underneath a large tree.

Francis Kere’s installation was made from locally sourced willow branches and logs. They were cut and assembled to resemble a tree; with the upper part, the shade/canopy, and the lower part, the seating.

“Just like the canopy of a great tree, the design provides the most basic form of shelter from the elements while remaining open and accessible. The wooden terrain below the canopy provides informal seating where visitors can gather, reflect, and encounter each other in an intimate setting. The articulated ceiling structure is dramatized by a programmed high-intensity daylighting system that mimics the arc and movement of the sun throughout the day.”

Lights were installed on the ceiling above the canopy, to resemble the behaviour of the sun above trees. The canopy filtered the light to the areas below it, protecting the lower areas from over exposure just like tree canopies. The concept is quite simplistic in nature, but also very stunning. It does what it sets out to do, make an impression while it sends a message. One we can’t continue to ignore.

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A closer look at the locally sourced branches and logs of a willow tree.
High intensity light installed above the canopy of the tree to mimic the movement of the sun throughout the day.
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Trees are a relief from the sun, and in Africa, they foster relationships.

Africa’s architecture is still developing, and looking closer to home, Nigeria’s architecture is still developing. If there’s one thing we can learn from Francis Kere, it’s that architecture should have purpose. And whatever way you as an architect choose to approach your project, it should do what it sets out to. What problem is it solving, how does your solution impact your environment and what message is it sending?

Image Credit; Kere Architecture

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