Rethinking History: New Architecture in Burkina Faso

The history and architecture of Burkina Faso is tied to its landscape. As a landlocked country in western Africa, it occupies an extensive plateau with grassy savannas and sparse forests. More than two-thirds of the people live in rural villages, and as such, the country’s modern architecture is the product of ingenuity born from reimagining traditional building materials and techniques.

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A former French colony, Burkina Faso gained independence as Upper Volta in 1960. The name Burkina Faso, which means “Land of Incorruptible People,” was adopted in 1984. The capital, Ouagadougou, is in the center of the country, and most of the country’s population is at higher elevations away from the Volta river valleys. Located in the Sahel region, Burkina Faso experiences some of the world’s most radical climatic variation, from extreme drought to severe flooding. This has given way to an architecture that is responsive, adaptable, and tied to the surrounding context.

Known for his work in Gando, architect Diébédo Francis Kéré of Kéré Architecture brought new attention to the country through his innovative use of local materials. Working with corrugated metal and replacing concrete with locally made mud bricks, his projects address the landscape of Burkina Faso and its seasons. This is echoed by the work of other designers and groups like Albert Faus and FAREStudio, where architecture is inherently tied to materials, tectonics, and local site conditions. The following projects showcase how these architects are pioneering different approaches to contemporary and vernacular techniques while reinterpreting the history of Burkina Faso.

Lycee Schorge Secondary School / Kéré Architecture

© Iwan Baan

Located in the third most populated city in Burkina Faso, the Lycée Schorge Secondary School was designed to set a new standard for educational excellence in the region and provide a source of inspiration by showcasing locally-sourced building materials in an innovative and modern way. The design for the school consists of 9 modules which accommodate a series of classrooms and administration rooms. One of these modules also houses a dental clinic which will provide a new source of dental care for the students. The architecture not only functions as a marker in the landscape, it is also a testament to how local materials, in combination with creativity and team-work, can be transformed into something significant with lasting effects.

Home Kisito / Albert Faus

© Giovanni Quattrocolo

HOME KISITO is a Residential Childcare for babies under two years old. The current facility was at the limit of its capacity with a pre-existing building consisting of a central structure and two other volumes located in the eastern third of the plot. The new construction takes a substantially centered position on the empty space remaining, parallel to the facade of the main edifice of the orphanage, and along an axis defined by the powerful visual reference that represents the high water tank. The resulting area between the two buildings becomes the entrance square to the center, site for receptions and future playground in the shade of the mango trees.

Women's Health Center / FARE

Courtesy of FAREStudio

The CBF Women's Health Centre in Burkina Faso was created by AIDOS, an Italian NGO fighting for Women's Rights in Developing Countries. The social/health-services program developed by AIDOS, together with its local partners, was focused on providing educational services in Ouagadougou, a peripheral urban area settled by the rural population. The social program called for the realization of a building complex capable of hosting a variety of activities. The architectural project represents the response to this condition. Completed in 15 months by a local builder, under the direct supervision of FAREstudio, the CBF is functionally and cost-effective answer to the needs expressed by AIDOS, while simultaneously and primarily representing a center of identity for the entire local community.

Primary School in Gando / Kéré Architecture

© Siméon Duchoud

The design for the Primary School evolved from a lengthy list of parameters including cost, climate, resource availability, and construction feasibility. The success of the project relied on both embracing and negating these constraints. In order to maximize results with the minimal resources available, a clay/mud hybrid construction was primarily used. Clay is abundantly available in the region, and is traditionally used in the construction of housing. These traditional clay-building techniques were modified and modernized in order to create a more structurally robust construction in the form of bricks. The bricks combine with a corrugated metal roof that reinterprets the traditional metal roofs used in the houses of Burkina Faso.

Education and Sports Center / Albert Faus

© Ibai Rigby

Rimkieta is one of the new neighborhoods of the capital that emerged in recent years to absorb rapid population growth and migration that is occurring from the countryside to the city. The commission was to design a new building on neighboring plots to group educational and sports activities, as the original space had quickly become obsolete. Finally the intervention meant building 145 m2, 215 m2 interiors, plus the construction of the enclosure wall. The team maintained the idea of the old classroom with walls under a porch, and built an enclosure and partitions with walls of BTC (compressed earth) brick. The facade was consolidated towards the street while freeing space inside the plot for a future expansion or for complementary training and sports activities.

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Cite: Eric Baldwin. "Rethinking History: New Architecture in Burkina Faso" 10 Sep 2019. ArchDaily. Accessed . <> ISSN 0719-8884

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