Clay walls are thermally inert. Clay walls act as a climate buffer, slowing down heat flow from the outside to the interior. This material is ideal for dry and hot climates like the one in Gando where Francis Kere built his first school. Kere returned home to his hometown after years of study abroad with the intent of building the school using the same materials used by locals. Many initially thought this was strange. Despite initial prejudices, the project was ultimately strengthened by Kere’s combination of local techniques and materials with his acquired knowledge.
It is not possible to provide thermal comfort in extreme climates like Burkina Faso without using electrical devices. These passive strategies must be well-thought out. It is vital to have plenty of natural ventilation. All classrooms in the Primary School, as well as its expansion in Gando have openings at the ends. This allows for cross ventilation. The ceilings have small openings that allow warm, lighter air to rise, cooling the room. Through the free space between the walls, the heat from the metal roof is reduced, and air circulates from inside to outside. This creates a pleasant learning environment for children. These coverings protect the building from the sun and from rainy periods, thus protecting the materials. The metallic tiles were selected for their performance and aesthetic appeal. They are also available locally, as well as the support structure of the rebar. This is a principle that guides Kere’s work wherever ever he goes.
Kere’s projects, apart from Gando Primary School use local materials in innovative and smart ways to adapt to heat, rainwater and other climate conditions that are unique to West African communities. Below are some examples of notable projects that used traditional materials and other constructive techniques to give you a better understanding of how Kere’s architecture adapts to the context.
Gando Primary School Library. Gando, Burkina Faso
This case, like many Kere buildings, emphasized comfort. It sought to create a quiet and open space for students to learn and relax. Eucalyptus wood, which is commonly used in Burkina Faso to make firewood, was used in the facade in a rhythmic fashion, creating a shaded area that protects the sun. To adapt to the climate, the roof construction incorporates a technical innovation. Traditional clay pots were used to provide natural lighting and ventilation. Kere takes advantage of this cultural item and transforms it into a practical construction element that can filter light, generate passive air circulation, and create a wonderful sensory experience.
Leo Doctor’s Housing. Leo, Burkina Faso
This modular accommodation project was designed to create a safe and comfortable environment for medical professionals. A double-layer wall is constructed from locally-sourced concrete blocks and compress stabilized earth blocks (CEB). The dual layers provide structural integrity and thermal mass. This keeps the interiors cool throughout the day. The exterior walls are protected from weather-related degradation with a coat of colored plaster. The interior ceiling, made of CEB is a single vault. The ends are left open for passive ventilation and daylight. A corrugated metal roof is added to the ceiling. This protects the building from heat and shelters users from the sun and rain. The sloped roof is used to direct rainwater into an on-site reservoir. This water can then be used for irrigation.
SKF-RTL Children Learning Centre. Nyang’oma Kogelo, Kenya
This project serves as an educational facility. The walls are made from compressed earth bricks that were made on-site. They are carefully laid to match the building’s smooth curves. These openings are broken up by bamboo log panels, which act as natural lattices and allow for cool breezes to flow through the space. An elevated steel butterfly roof gives shade and allows air to circulate through the space. Rainwater can be collected in the center. This creates an ideal environment for education and provides a comfortable indoor climate.
Noomdo Orphanage. Koudougou (Burkina Faso).
The orphanage was inspired by nearby residential areas. It is structured by a series a clusters around a central courtyard. Kere says that the outdoor flooring and walls are made from locally sourced laterite stone. This material was once rejected by the local population because it was considered “a poor people’s material.” However, projects like these helped to break the stigma and show the material’s potential with the right construction techniques. Laterite is easily extracted from the earth and can be shaped into red bricks that harden in the sun. The material is a great source of thermal mass, as it has a high capacity to absorb and radiate heat at night. Each window can be adapted to different climate conditions. Fresh air can be pushed towards the interior by adding an air vent. A double-skin roof, which is a barrel vault and a canopy supported on steel trusses, allows hot air to escape upwards.
Local materials and traditional methods of construction offer many advantages. They are affordable, readily available, and sustainable for the environment. They can also help to stimulate the local economy and strengthen cultural identity. Additionally, they are simple to teach skills, which empower entire communities. Kere’s projects can be used in a way that is sensitive to the climate. This allows them to provide comfort, security, and high-quality architecture. This is crucial for improving quality of life in areas without electricity or clean water. According to the Pritzker Prize jury, Kere’s buildings “are tied to the ground upon which they are placed and to the people who live within them”.