We are seeing a shift away from the Eurocentric worldview and toward Indigenous building traditions.
NBO: What methods do you use to ensure a collaborative approach, especially when working in a context where “proper” architectural drawings are limiting or poor tools for communication?
DFK: When working with a community like in Gando, it is about respecting their own specific cultural frame of reference. We also use 1:1 models to communicate on site—they feel more real. I find that drawings have their limitations—they are still fiction. If ideas on paper were the basis of making a better world, Africa, with all the supposedly visionary plans that people have developed for it, would be the most developed place on earth. We have to find other tools. Models are useful; they have a psychical presence, people can see them, touch them and understand them spatially.
NBO: You work a lot with earth as a building material. What’s your approach to sustainability in your architecture?
DFK: I don’t waste time talking about sustainability as fashion.3 I am more interested in how it relates to a social economy, climatic conditions and people’s ways of living. Sustainability is also about finding innovative ways of using materials. Take eucalyptus wood, for example, a fast-growing timber native to arid Burkina Faso, commonly used for scaffolding or firewood. We saw the ability to use it differently, as a proper building material, taking advantage of its durability. I am always thinking about sustainability, but as a practice that relates to context. A sustainable building is a durable building. It embraces its users and provides joy and comfort.
NBO: You emphasize the importance of utopianism in architecture, especially in times of crisis when we are implored to imagine beyond our present condition. What does that look like in practice?
DFK: That is a great summary of utopia and its usefulness in architecture; it is about the capacity to dream, to imagine a better and fairer world. Projects like the National Assembly in Benin are a manifestation of our utopian thinking. In our work, we apply this from the outset of a project—we ask how the particular project can push us in search of greater aspirations. You have to embrace a utopian vision to do things that are out of your reach.
NBO: People will often speak about an African architecture—do you think that such a thing exists?
DFK: It is dangerous to be limited. It is important to resist being reduced to pattern and form as an African architect. Pattern and form are of course part of architecture, but is it not the case that these differ from region to region on the continent? Architecture is best judged in place—for how it relates to climate, local resources, building techniques and its socioeconomic context. Of course, I believe in the architecture of the African continent—in an architecture that inspires people and gives a positive sense of our continent. The architecture of the African continent is simple, efficient and centers people.