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FRANCIS KÉRÉ: There is a special place in my home village of Gando, where the elders gather to discuss important matters. The seating place of the village elders is a small gathering place made of wood and plant fibers. From an architectural perspective, it appears almost insignificant. It is completely open with no walls or doors. The thatch roof creates a shadow on the ground which makes up the boundary between inside and outside. As children, my friends and I were allowed to enter and play inside except for when the elders gathered to discuss important village matters. When this happens, the nature of the space completely changes and the children understand that they are no longer allowed inside. When the elders gather, the entire village becomes aware of what is happening because it is completely open for everyone to see. Suddenly the space becomes very significant and everyone begins to gather around to see what is happening. In this way, the event has the magic power to expand this little place to include the whole community. When we were young, my friends and I gathered around this place with a sense of wonder, respect, joy and excitement. This image is powerful because it reconnects me to all of those feelings and traditions. The natural materials and simple design of the structure tells the story of our unique way of living. We learned to live with the natural cycles of nature, working with what is available to make our food and houses. This knowledge must be passed down from the elders to the children for the survival of the community. The seating place of the elders connects my people to our past but also to our future. I carry this place with me even when I am far away from Gando and it resonates in my architecture. The seating place of the village elders is like the heart of the village, the spirit of the people. It reminds me of the Baobab, the ancient tree that is able to survive in the most difficult conditions. The strong foundation of the tree allows the branches to grow outward, extending into the limitless space of the desert. Village Elders’ Pavilion, Gando, Burkina Faso


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