Francis Kéré: Serpentine Pavilion 2017 — “Gathering Form: Making a Building, Building Community”

Jeanne Gang

Melissa Blanchflower and Joseph Constable

Francis Kéré: Serpentine Pavilion 2017

Serpentine Galleries and Koenig Books


Fraser Muggeridge studio


In this essay for the publication accompanying Francis Kéré’s Serpentine Pavilion, Jeanne Gang highlights Kéré’s approach to building community through architecture.

“Francis Kéré creates by centering his approach on the question, ‘How will this building be made?’ For him this is not an abstract question but a specific, community-based inquiry into locally available materials, techniques, tools and people—an interrelated set of criteria that can shift over the life of a project. Nested within this investigation is the goal of making a building’s construction a collective enterprise that gathers communities together, strengthening their social bonds and empowering them with new knowledge, skills and confidence. For many of his projects, he directs and works alongside his teams of builders—often the very same people who will use the buildings upon completion, whether they are members of his home village community in Gando, Burkina Faso, or a mix of long-term and recently immigrated residents of Berlin, as is planned for his proposal for the Volksbühne Satellite Theatre project at Tempelhof Airport. Many workers come to the building site without previous experience in construction and learn along the way. They finish with the kind of technical understanding and hands-on experience that can lead to continued employment in the building trades, as well as a deep sense of ownership and pride in the project they built together. Shared cultural practices can also become part of the construction process, integrated just like welding or bricklaying and further weaving together building and community.

With all of this action occurring at the building site, it’s no wonder that Kéré has said he sometimes feels more like an orchestra conductor than an architect. To lead his projects, he must use considerable social intelligence as well as wielding more traditional architectural expertise in material, structure and form-making. He and his team are continually experimenting with earth as a building material, testing the capabilities of various local soils by combining them with additional materials and developing new methods to form the resulting composites into bricks, panels and other modular elements. Advanced engineering always plays a major role in his projects. Lightweight structures and inventive sustainability strategies enable efficient construction, increase performance, and reduce environmental footprints. They also liberate the walls of his earth buildings from their traditional load-bearing roles. Thus more free to experiment with form, Kéré and his team explore various ways in which looser, more porous relationships between interior and exterior can produce architecture that announces the exciting and valuable activities happening inside—from education and healthcare to housing and cultural events—and graciously welcomes everyone to gather and take part. ...”