Francis Kéré Wins Jefferson Medal

John Hill
30. March 2021
Francis Kéré (Photo: Astrid Eckert)

The University of Virginia and the Thomas Jefferson Foundation at Monticello have announced that Francis Kéré is the recipient of the 2021 Thomas Jefferson Foundation Medal in Architecture.

The University of Virginia, which does not grant honorary degrees, collaborates annually with the Jefferson Foundation to award medals in fields of special interest to Thomas Jefferson: architecture, citizen leadership, global innovation, and law. Francis Kéré's Medal in Architecture, announced over the weekend, is the first of the four medals to be named in the days leading up to Jefferson's birthday on April 13. In a typical year, that day involves a formal dinner at Monticello, medal presentations at UVA, and public talks by the medalists, but due to the pandemic this year's event, like last year's, will be virtual.

Courtyard of the Léo Surgical Clinic & Health Centre (Photo: Andrea Maretto for Kéré Architecture)

"Over the course of nearly two decades," the announcement reads, "Kéré has become one of the world’s most distinguished contemporary architects, celebrated for his pioneering communal approach to design and his commitment to incorporating sustainable materials and modes of construction." Born in Burkina Faso and educated in Berlin, Kéré remains best known for his first building, the Gando Primary School, completed in his native country in 2001. The school catapulted Kéré into the international spotlight and earned him an Aga Khan Award for Architecture. Design and built with the involvement of local residents, the school has been expanded by the architect in the decades since. 

Lycée Schorge Secondary School (Photo: Iwan Baan)

A few recent projects singled out by UVA and the Jefferson Foundation in their announcement include Léo Surgical Clinic & Health Centre (2014) in Léo, Burkina Faso; the Lycée Schorge Secondary School (2016) in Koudougou, Burkina Faso; and Xylem (2019), a scenic pavilion at the Tippet Rise Art Center in Montana. Last month, Kéré Architecture unveiled its competition-winning design for the Benin National Assembly, which scales up the architect's ideas on gathering — sheltered spaces inspired by meeting under trees, namely — to approximately 35,000 square meters, or 70 times the size of the school in Gando.

In recognition of the 2021 Thomas Jefferson Foundation Medal in Architecture, the UVA School of Architecture will host a virtual public talk by Kéré on Monday, April 12 at 5 pm (EDT), hosted on Zoom.
Benin National Assembly (Visualization: Kéré Architecture)

The Jefferson Foundation Medal in Architecture was created in 1966, when it was given to Ludwig Mies van der Rohe. Recent winners include Marion Weiss and Michael Manfredi, Kazuyo Sejima and Ryue Nishizawa, David Adjaye, Yvonne Farrell and Shelly McNamara, Cecil Balmond, Herman Hertzberger, Toyo Ito, Laurie Olin, and Rafael Moneo.

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