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Gando Primary School

Diébédo Francis Kéré’s first building, the Primary school in Gando was finished in 2001. The school is the result of a vision, initially verbalized by the architect and realised by the community. The final building combines passive solar design and cross-ventilation with the use of earth as the basic construction material; the use of concrete is minimized, and there is no wood. The roof was made in a light metal structure, an ingenious solution requiring little skill and only simple tools to execute. The school is an object of pride to the local community. It now serves children not only from the village of Gando but also from the surrounding area.

Gando-Primary-School-By-Kere-Architecture-02-Kere-Architecture-759x275 Gando Primary School / Kéré Architecture

© Kéré Architecture

This school, in a remote settlement in the south of Burkina Faso, is the expression of one man’s commitment to improve conditions in his village. It also represents the involvement of a whole community in the construction of a building that symbolizes the first step towards this improvement. The designer, who was studying architecture in Berlin when he conceived the project, was heavily involved in raising funds in Germany.

Gando-Primary-School-By-Kere-Architecture-03-Kere-Architecture-759x590 Gando Primary School / Kéré Architecture

© Kéré Architecture

“A primary school built cooperatively by a whole village community. Its clay walls are topped with a double roof structure of adobe and tin that blocks the heat of the sun, making the inside up to six degrees cooler than it would be with tin alone. Inspired by this model, two neighbouring villages now have their own new schools, built entirely with their own labour and funded by community members living away from home.” – Aga Khan Award

Gando-Primary-School-By-Kere-Architecture-04-Kere-Architecture-759x275 Gando Primary School / Kéré Architecture

© Kéré Architecture

The compound walls are built of sun-dried mud blocks (banco), although concrete blocks are increasing used for the quadrangular constructions. The latter were traditionally covered with flat mud roofs, supported on wooden structures, but single-slope low-pitch tin roofs are now current both in mud and concrete wall buildings. The round-plan rooms have conical thatch roofs, as do, in general, the granaries; but these can also appear as large ovoid forms made entirely from straw mats. Granaries are systematically raised above the ground for protection against moisture and pests. Mud block construction, in the rudimentary techniques used here, does seem vulnerable to erosion by rain, particularly when, carried by the strong east wind, it hits the walls almost horizontally. Some measure of waterproofing is obtained by adding shea butter to a mud rendering or interposing a coat of asphalt between rendering and blocks in the eastern walls, but this is not a widespread technique. This is usually one of the reasons given for using concrete blocks when they can be afforded, in spite of their higher cost and poorer climatic performance. Concrete was the dominant material used for colonial buildings, and this has set a few formal stereotypes, particularly concerning the abundant use of surfaces made with pre-cast ventilation blocks or grilles. In Tenkodogo, the region’s main town, concrete construction is now ubiquitous, one the reasons apparently being the proximity to the border with Togo and the easy accessibility to concrete imported from there.

Gando-Primary-School-By-Kere-Architecture-05-Kere-Architecture-759x497 Gando Primary School / Kéré Architecture

© Kéré Architecture

  • Ground Plan – The school building has the form of an oblong bar which has been expressly designed to offer maximum protection from the rays of the sun. The ground plan consists of three consecutive rectangular classrooms all under a single roof. Each classroom has space for up to 50 pupils. Between the individual classrooms are open roofed-over areas which provide space for recreation in the fresh air protected from the sun and rain.
  • Architecture, Form, Details – The basic principle behind the design was to take the traditional clay construction building that had been erected as a temporary measure and to turn it into a permanent building with high climatic suitability by employing new materials and construction principles. Clay has the great advantages that it is an abundant and very cheap material, and that it is also an integral part of natural life cycles. At the same time we also wished to produce an architectural design that was both modern and aesthetically appealing. The basic principle was to place the rooms on a raised foundation and to cover them with a wide overlapping roof that would afford protection to the clay walls. The classrooms themselves were designed as simple rectangular modules. The reinforcing wall elements lend a play of light and shadow to the walls which doesn’t only confer structure and a dimensional quality on them. At the same time the reinforcements are beneficial components that create cooling areas of shadow and also act as acoustic buffers absorbing sound between the classrooms.
  • Construction – Tin is the most popular roofing material in the region on account of its sheer durability. But tin roofing causes acoustic problems, besides having an adverse effect on the room temperatures. So the tin roof covering was raised from the building using a lattice truss of reinforcing steel and an adobe ceiling was inserted. Circulating air between these two levels substantially reduces overheating in the classrooms whilst the broadly projecting roof protects against sun and pelting rain. The classrooms have floors of stamped clay protected against rising damp by a layer of stone. They were made by the women of the village. Their surfaces are impregnated with natural oils to protect them.
  • Energy Concept – Unlike in Europe where it’s a matter of storing heat, in the tropics the main issue is avoiding heat and storing the cool of the night. Alongside the general design of the building which I’ve mentioned, the thick clay walls also act as a storage unit for cool whilst the special roof construction ensures ventilation and creates cooling shadow with its broad projecting ends.
Gando-Primary-School-By-Kere-Architecture-06-Erik-Jan-Ouwerkerk-759x505 Gando Primary School / Kéré Architecture

© Erik-Jan Ouwerkerk

“After the Primary School was completed, it became a landmark of community pride and received the Aga Khan Award for Architecture in 2004. As the collective knowledge of construction began to spread and inspire Gando, new cultural and educational projects have since been introduced to further support sustainable development in the village.” – Kéré Architecture

Gando-Primary-School-By-Kere-Architecture-07-Erik-Jan-Ouwerkerk-759x505 Gando Primary School / Kéré Architecture

© Erik-Jan Ouwerkerk

Kéré Architecture:

As a native of Burkina Faso, Diébédo Francis Kéré grew up with many challenges and few resources. When he was a child, he travelled nearly 40 kilometers to the next village in order to attend a school with poor lighting and ventilation. The experience of trying to learn in this oppressive environment affected him so much that when he began to study architecture in Europe, he decided to reinvest his knowledge towards building a new school in his home village. With the support of his community and funds raised through his foundation, Schulbausteine fuer Gando (Bricks for Gando,) Francis began construction of the Primary School, his very first building.

Gando-Primary-School-By-Kere-Architecture-08-Erik-Jan-Ouwerkerk-759x505 Gando Primary School / Kéré Architecture

© Erik-Jan Ouwerkerk

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 clay bricks have the added advantage of being cheap, easy to produce, and also providing thermal protection against the hot climate. Despite their durability, however, the walls must still be protected from damaging rains with a large overhanging tin roof.

Gando-Primary-School-By-Kere-Architecture-09-public-domain-759x506 Gando Primary School / Kéré Architecture

© public domain

Gando-Primary-School-By-Kere-Architecture-10-public-domain-759x506 Gando Primary School / Kéré Architecture

© public domain

Many houses in Burkina Faso have corrugated metal roofs which absorb the heat from the sun, making the interior living space intolerably hot. The roof of the Primary School was pulled away from the learning space of the interior though, and a perforated clay ceiling with ample ventilation was introduced. This dry-stacked brick ceiling allows for maximum ventilation, pulling cool air in from the interior windows and releasing hot air out through the perforated ceiling. In turn, the ecological footprint of the school is vastly reduced by alleviating the need for air-conditioning.

Gando-Primary-School-By-Kere-Architecture-11-Erik-Jan-Ouwerkerk-759x508 Gando Primary School / Kéré Architecture

© Erik-Jan Ouwerkerk

Although the plans for the Primary School were drawn by Francis, the success of the project can be attributed to the close involvement of the local villagers. Traditionally, members of a whole village community work together to build and repair homes in rural Burkina Faso. In keeping with this cultural practice, low-tech and sustainable techniques were developed and improved so that the Gando villagers could participate in the process. Children gathered stones for the school foundation and women brought water for the brick manufacturing. In this way, traditional building techniques were utilized alongside modern engineering methods in order to produce the best quality building solution while simplifying construction and maintenance for the workers.

Gando-Primary-School-By-Kere-Architecture-12-Erik-Jan-Ouwerkerk-759x505 Gando Primary School / Kéré Architecture

© Erik-Jan Ouwerkerk

Project Data:

Project name: Gando Primary School
Location: Gando, Burkina Faso
Coordinates: 11.841869, -0.487120
Type: School
Project Area: 520 sqm
Status: Built
Completion: 2001


  • 2002-2004 Cycle – Aga Khan Award – Category: Architecture – Winner

The people:

Client / Owner / Developer: Community of Gando Village /  Kéré Foundation (Schulbausteine für Gando e.V.)

Design: Diébédo Francis Kéré

Text Description: © Courtesy of Kéré Architecture
Images: © Kéré Architecture, Siméon Duchoud, Erik-Jan Ouwerkerk


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