This article titled “Serpentine pavilion 2017: Francis Kéré’s cool shades of Africa” was written by Rowan Moore, for The Observer on Sunday 25th June 2017 07.00 UTC
“Architecture should give us oxygen,” says Hans Ulrich Obrist, artistic director and rainmaker-in-chief at the Serpentine Galleries in London. He cites a proposal by his hero, the late conceptual architect Cedric Price, for re-oxygenating Manhattan. He also thinks that oxygen is something that is offered at this year’s Serpentine Pavilion, by the Berlin-based architect Francis Kéré.
Kéré first became interested in building as a child, growing up in Burkina Faso, helping his uncle in the demoralising business of restoring mud-built buildings that degraded every year in the rains. He went to Berlin to study, where among other things he encountered the architecture of Mies van der Rohe, who is the first name that comes up when you ask him his inspirations. He studied and measured a little-known Mies-designed house in east Berlin and admired how it was “little but very powerful”. He liked the architect’s “rationality”.
Kéré decided to bring these qualities to his home town of Gando, in Burkina Faso. He wanted to develop ways of building that worked better, without resorting to the expensive and alien techniques of reinforced concrete and air conditioning favoured by investors from outside. In a location that had no electricity, or access to heavy building machinery, he chose to improve traditional methods.
The buccaneering Sir Francis Drake, who liked a bit of gold and glitter, would undoubtedly be pleased to know that the great barn at his old home, Buckland Abbey in Devon, is once again full of wheat – this time towering golden stalks stretching up towards the medieval roof timbers, installed by the artist Andrew Logan.
The real jackdaws perched in the stone windows chatter their delight at the piece, which incorporates giant mirrored butterflies suspended from the rafters, and tiny shimmering field mice climbing the swaying stalks.
The exhibition of Logan’s work, threaded through the house and grounds of the National Trust property, officially opens on 1 July. However, once installed in the huge barn his Goldfield is impossible to conceal: visitors are enchanted, returning repeatedly to sit on the benches and just watch the piece change with the light and shiver in every breeze.
Logan’s sculptures, paintings and jewellery are in many museum and private collections, including the National Portrait Gallery, but his own most famous invention, the camp and glittery Alternative Miss World contest, staged at irregular intervals since 1972, has overshadowed his career.