One of my favorite ways to interact with the GSD post-fellowship is in studio reviews because it allows me to lend a practitioner’s perspective to their investigations. I was a mid-term and final reviewer for Francis Kéré’s studio on housing in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso. I was joined by Loebs Andres Lepik (LF 2012) and Ann Yoachim (LF 2013) for the final - strong Loeb showing.
The students demonstrated an impressive interest in the political and social history of the country, the economic and environmental realities at a national and household level and the evolution of typical housing form over time. I found the quality of the research and many of the graphic devices that the students created to convey these trends really remarkable.
The site was seemingly an urban “no-man’s land” – but more accurately – an “every person’s land”. It was located in between an informal settlement and two different generations of government-sponsored regularization efforts: one in which lots were allocated to households for self-construction and the other where developer-constructed housing replaced former squatter settlements.
While unoccupied by structures, the site currently serves as a thoroughfare, grazing pasture, and garden for people who live nearby. I was impressed by the students’ sensitivity not only to the importance of these existing uses but also to their specific locations on the site, determined by practical experience over generations.
Aided by aerial imaging, many students used the historic use patterns on the site to inform their design proposals.
For me, their commitment to understanding the history and current conditions of the site, the surrounding environment and their synthesis of this information was as important as the quality of the final proposals. The skills and sensibilities that Francis and others are helping them develop will ensure that they - the coming generation of design professionals - will be able to work in any context nimbly and sensitively.The studio is only one example of some of the current offerings at the GSD which are worth checking out and supporting. If you haven’t been involved in a while, you might find some of them as fresh and exciting as I do.