This Year’s Serpentine Pavilion Is The Building The World Needs

Architect Diébédo Francis Kéré’s stunning design embodies environmental sensitivity and inclusion.

When architect Diébédo Francis Kéré won the coveted commission for this year’s Serpentine Pavilion–a showpiece structure built annually in London that represents the artistry and ingenuity of its designer–he decided to bring Burkina Faso, his home country, to England both physically and figuratively.


This week, Kéré’s pavilion opened to the public. It’s a striking indigo structure composed of 520 modular, triangular wood blocks that are Tetris’d together in an elliptical footprint; a sweeping wood canopy caps the pavilion like a golden crown. The overall form riffs on baobab trees, which dot the Burkinabe landscape, and Kéré also wanted to evoke what it’s like to stand beneath one of its boughs.

“I wanted the visitor to come and discover this huge canopy, and then go through these enclosing walls, to have the light, to be able to see the clouds moving, but be at the same time protected from the rain, to feel the wind going through the openings in the walls,” Kéré said in a video about the structure.

Most of Kéré’s projects are made from simple materials like mud brick and utilize basic construction techniques–necessary, since he typically designs humanitarian projects for communities with limited resources. This time, he took a more complex route with the structure.

[Photo: © 2017 Iwan Baan]
The architect, who is now based in Berlin, worked with engineers at AECOM to develop a dramatic cantilevered roof. The canopy is composed of hollow steel trusses that support a slatted wood sun shade and transparent polycarbonate sheets. Shaped like a funnel, the roof collects rainwater and channels it into a central courtyard that drains into the park. To further celebrate how special the structure is, Kéré dyed the wood modules indigo, a color that people in his country wear on momentous occasions.

In Burkina Faso, baobab trees create important social spaces as people retreat to the shade their foliage creates. They’re the equivalent of a town square. Kéré hopes that his pavilion creates community, just like the trees that inspired it. It’s a heartwarming sentiment that speaks to the power of architecture–and it couldn’t come at a better time, considering our fraught political and social times.

“I hope everyone will feel invited,” Kéré remarks in the video. “I hope to have a great and inclusive summer.”


About the author

Diana Budds is a New York–based writer covering design and the built environment.