How to build with clay and community

Diébédo Francis Kéré was born in a small village called Gando, about 125 miles southeast of the capital city of Ouagadougou. At age 7 he was sent off to the city to study -- a rare privilege in his largely illiterate community.

When he showed promise at school, he was awarded a scholarship to learn woodworking in Germany, an ironic prize for a student from Burkina Faso. Kéré recognized opportunity when he saw it and parlayed his scholarship into a high-school degree, followed by acceptance at a German architecture school. His architecture program was focused on creating structures with sophisticated machinery and techniques in northern climates. Kéré wanted to learn how to build for his own people, in a place where temperatures often top 104 degrees, where there is no electricity for power tools, and where termites quickly make lunch of your two-by-fours.

So he resolved to reverse-engineer everything he was taught, trying to use principles of heat to figure out natural cooling and learning to design windows that would protect from the blazing sun but still offer ventilation. 
While in Germany, he learned that the school in his village was near collapse. Determined to help, he launched an organization, Schulbausteine für Gando e.V. (School Building Blocks for Gando) to raise money for a new facility that could give his people a chance at a better life. 
Kéré was determined not to build the school with traditional construction methods: bunkers of concrete blocks with corrugated roofs that turn into ovens in the summer heat. Instead, he devised a new sort of brick, made of clay, fortified with 10% cement, and compressed by hand tools into sturdy building blocks. These could accommodate a larger structure, survive the annual rains, and support a graceful roof.
To work with the climate and with local materials and labor was an important approach because the area had a long history of Europeans arriving, erecting structures, and leaving. When the buildings fell into disrepair, no one had the materials or expertise to fix them.
But unlike those Europeans, Kéré has a face that radiates optimism, like the sun. He rallied his neighbors, and they set to work. "Everybody was working," he says. "The oldest were encouraging the youngest, the women were carrying water and beating the floors level." 
In six weeks, Gando had a new school for 120 students, made of 30,000 clay bricks. 
The roof itself was a model of innovation. Corrugated iron, the traditional material, is sturdy and offers great protection from the rain. However, it gets brutally hot. Kéré used what he learned in Germany to create an Eero Saarinen -- like soaring double roof -- one of clay, one of iron -- that was supported by welded rebar and that used natural convection to produce a breeze that simulates air-conditioning.
The structure was so inventive that it won the 2004 Aga Khan Award for Architecture.

Credits: fastcompany