Burkina’s ‘opera village’ by its avant-garde architect

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Ouagadougou (AFP)- With its imposing and angular proportions made of clay, laterite and other local building materials, the cultural and educational project of the Opera Village, designed by the architect of Burkinabe origin Francis Kere, blends into the landscape. .

It overlooks Laongo, a rural community not far from Burkina Faso’s capital, Ouagadougou, and is the kind of groundbreaking design that helped Kere win architecture’s most prestigious award, the Pritzker Prize, this week.

In doing so, the 56-year-old, who holds dual Burkinabe and German nationality, became the first African to win the honor in over 40 years of history.

Built on 20 hectares (nearly 50 acres) of granite plateau, the Opera Village is spiral-shaped, with 26 buildings housing workshops, a health center, guest houses and a school.

Aerial view of the revolutionary Opera Village project OLYMPIE DE MAISMONT AFP

Eventually, in its center, a performance hall and a covered exhibition space with 700 seats.

Built in the early 2010s with the aim of combining art, education and ecology, the project was conceived by the late German director and filmmaker Christoph Schlingensief.

“The simplest material”

Kere was hailed Tuesday by Pritzker sponsors for his designs “sustainable for the earth and its people – in lands of extreme scarcity.”

His Opera Village used local building materials, such as clay, laterite, granite and wood to enable it to withstand the region’s extreme heat, said site administrator Motandi Ouoba.

Schoolchildren attend a lesson in a classroom at Opera Village School
Schoolchildren attend a lesson in a classroom at Opera Village School OLYMPIE DE MAISMONT AFP

“These are local materials that the architect found on site: blocks of compressed earth, bricks taken from the site, granite paving stones”, he specifies.

Kere “starts with the simplest material, which we commonly share…that our parents used, and he turns it into something noble,” he added.

“It’s the earth, it’s everything around us, when he brings them together he brings something beautiful to life.”

It also blends well with local vegetation, contributing to a sense of harmony.

‘Bioclimatic buildings’

Huge roofs tower over the walls, and ventilation keeps the temperature in the rooms down, even when it’s over 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit) outside.

Kere assured that “our buildings are bioclimatic, with a double ceiling and openings to dissipate hot air,” Ouoba said.

The roofs overhang the walls and the ventilation keeps the temperature in the rooms low, even when it is over 40 degrees Celsius outside.
The roofs overhang the walls and the ventilation keeps the temperature in the rooms low, even when it is over 40 degrees Celsius outside. OLYMPIE DE MAISMONT AFP

The health center’s consultation and treatment rooms have dozens of long, sliding-up windows.

“With so many openings, patients feel less isolated by hospitalization. They have a view of the landscape,” says Dr. Issa Ouedraogo.

Sleek classrooms bathed in daylight are a far cry from the makeshift decor of many schools in Burkina Faso, a country grappling with a jihadist insurgency since 2015 that has swept through neighboring Mali.

“The architecture of the buildings changes everything. We are in perfect classrooms because it is very hot here and not everyone can afford fans or air conditioning,” said director Abdoulaye Ouedraogo. , who is also an actor and playwright.

Six classrooms can accommodate 181 students – and there’s separate space for lessons in music, dance, drama, fine arts, photography and audiovisual.

“Durable and functional”

Opera Village also serves as a creative residency site for artists, according to Ouoba.

“It reminds us that we can get something beautiful, durable and functional from local materials,” he said.

With its unique architecture, the center attracts around 2,500 visitors each year.

Ouoba hopes that the international recognition of Francis Kere will help maintain the curiosity of visitors.

“We are happy for Mr. Kere but also for us who are among the first beneficiaries of his work,” he said, congratulating the architect.

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