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Diebedo Francis Kere: ‘Plastic, to me, is “local” to London’

Ann-Marie Corvin interviews Diebedo Francis Kere

How can you make a structure inside this very heavy, old and famous building? What can you do with that much gold inside? You feel you ought to be very careful. That you are not supposed to touch anything.

How can I create a structure that gives you an idea of how the air is flowing through the building, from the outside spaces through a narrow door to another interior space, and then flowing back out again?

Since we are not in Africa I used different materials. Britain was one of the first industrial nations, so I decided on plastic honeycomb - an industrial product - which, to me, is ‘local’ to London. It’s a material that is everywhere, but that you never see visibly.

I use it, make panels out of it and connect them together with the very banal screw to create this idea of wind flowing. The concept is to play with the fragility of the structure in contrast to the heaviness of the Royal Academy.

We didn’t know whether the structure would stand up or not - that was the exciting thing, the process. And it is still a process, because I want visitors to use the straws and put them inside the honeycomb to help build the structure. create something that you can explore and touch rather than something you should fear.

I build a lot of schools in my home country of Burkina Faso, and when I design them I’m thinking about the kids. I’m thinking how I inspire them. Because it’s inspiration that facilitates learning, listening and concentration.

It can be 45°C in the shade there, with no electricity or air con. That’s why people call my buildings ‘breathing buildings’ - I try to use the wind, which should flow inside through openings in the ceiling, through openings on the far side - to create natural ventilation. I build wind.

I also think about contact with the outside world. I suffered as a kid in narrow little corrugated iron classrooms with no openings, where it was hot inside, and you just sit there with nothing to look at - no windows, no skylights, no way to escape. It’s the reason I became an architect - because I wanted to make things better.

  • Interview by Ann-Marie Corvin

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