Founded by Diébédo Francis Kéré, an architect born in Burkina Faso, our firm is committed to designing attractive and sustainable buildings that are made with local materials and labor. In April 2014, we completed our latest project: a health clinic in Léo, a Burkinabe town located 150 kilometers south of the country’s capital, Ouagadougou. The goal of the project was not just to build a medical facility for an impoverished area, but also to create inspiring architecture made by the people.
Léo has a population of approximately 50,000 people. The new clinic will serve patients from both the city and countryside, and will drastically reduce pressure on a district hospital that is overstretched due to high staff turnover and the lack of small clinics in the region. The project was funded by the German charity Operieren in Afrika, which will provide scholarships to train doctors and nurses.
The project gave us the chance to hire local workers and teach them innovative building methods—a key aspect of our firm’s mission. For each phase of construction, we worked alongside a locally formed team and provided job training, which is rare in Burkina Faso. Workers have gone on to find other jobs as a result of the experience they gained. They also were able to support their families with their wages.
In designing the facility, we sought to create a vibrant and highly sustainable building. Working with a limited budget, we conceived a modular system that would be very cost efficient to produce. The clinic features 10 modules, each with the same dimensions. The modules are positioned at different angles, giving rise to a variety of enclosed, interstitial spaces and a layout that feels dynamic and welcoming.
The walls are made of compressed earth bricks. The bricks were baked by the sun—a critical aspect given that Burkina Faso has few trees that could be used to fire a kiln. Molded on site using a portable machine, the earth bricks reduced transportation and material costs. Plus, their high thermal mass allows them to absorb the cool night air and release it during the day, helping keep the interior cool. Burkina Faso is near the equator and the temperature regularly climbs over 45 degrees Celsius.
The clinic features 10 large overlapping roofs that serve a double purpose: They protect the building’s clay walls from the hard summer rains, and they shade the building during the day. Inside, warm, stale air is drawn upward and pushed out of the building via an open area between the ceiling and the roof. Cooler, fresh air enters through operable windows, creating a ventilated environment that promotes good health.
For a country where it rains only three months per year, one important aspect of the project was to conceive a rainwater and greywater collection system that would be used to irrigate plants and trees. Powered by electricity generated from solar panels, a bio treatment system adds oxygen to the water. This system allows for the total reuse of greywater.
The project has been very successful. Thanks to its friendly character, the building attracts patients who normally would not go to a hospital, and kids can often be seen playing around the facility. This project was not just about creating a medical clinic; it was also about finding innovative uses for local materials and working with the people to create dignified architecture. We have already begun applying the technologies learned to future projects, and we hope the building will be a source of inspiration for architects, healthcare workers, and members of the community.
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