Dezeen Magazine

Kéré Architecture suspends colourful strings from ceiling of Philadelphia art museum

For his first solo exhibition in the USA, Berlin-based architect Diébédo Francis Kéré has created a rainbow-coloured installation made of thousands of strands of lightweight cord (+ slideshow).

Colorscape installation by Kéré Architecture

The site-specific installation, called Colorscape, is on view until 25 September 2016 at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, a leading cultural institution in the US.

Colorscape installation by Kéré Architecture

It is part of a comprehensive solo exhibition – titled The Architecture of Francis Kéré: Building With Community – that examines the architect's work in West Africa and beyond through models, photographs, film projections and other items.

Colorscape installation by Kéré Architecture

"The exhibition invites visitors to consider how architecture benefits and interacts with communities, while revealing how materials can potentially transform into meaningful collective experience when coupled with basic tools, ideas and willpower," said Kéré Architecture.

Colorscape installation by Kéré Architecture

Kéré grew up in a remote village in Burkina Faso and today runs his eponymous studio in Berlin. He is well-known for creating low-cost, modern buildings in West Africa that are constructed using local materials and labour.

Colorscape installation by Kéré Architecture

Kéré has also completed a number of projects in Europe, including a Camper pop-up store on the Vitra Campus in Weil am Rhein, Germany, and the Sensing Spaces pavilion in London. In April, he created an installation in Milan modelled after an African village.

For an atrium in the Philadelphia art museum, the architect installed a suspended, maze-like structure that consists of thin pieces of coloured cord attached to a steel frame. The string was locally fabricated and references Philadelphia's legacy as a textiles hub.

Colorscape installation by Kéré Architecture
Photograph by James Bassett-Cann

Similar to Kére's building practises in rural Africa, the installation was designed to be built by workers with little or no construction experience.

While conceiving the installation's composition and form, Kéré took cues from two sources: a typical African village, which features meandering paths and clusters of small buildings, and the more structured layout of Philadelphia – planned and developed in the 1600s under the direction of real estate entrepreneur William Penn.

Colorscape installation by Kéré Architecture

"By overlaying the organic grid of Kéré's home village of Gando with the rectilinear grid of William Penn's Philadelphia, visual as well as conceptual parallels between the types and geometries of spaces begin to appear," the studio explained.

The Architecture of Francis Kéré: Building With Community

As visitors wander through the maze, they can hear audio recordings of everyday sounds from Burkina Faso and Philadelphia, from the crowing of roosters to the clanking of silverware in a restaurant. The soundscape was produced in collaboration with architecture students from the University of Pennsylvania.

The Architecture of Francis Kéré: Building With Community

"Much like the architecture of Francis Kére, the installation is an example of how aggregating a simple material can produce an extraordinary structure that has the power to unite and inspire the community," the firm said.

Beyond the installation, the art museum has staged a survey of Kéré's work in an adjacent gallery. A range of material is presented, from clay pots and primitive tools to building models and prototypes.

The Architecture of Francis Kéré: Building With Community

The exhibition also includes three films that present video clips of life in Kéré's native village. To display the films, Kéré constructed a trio of "theatres" within the gallery made of string.

The Kéré show is part of a larger exhibition at the museum called Creative Africa, which presents an extensive survey of both historic and contemporary art and design from the continent. Five individual shows are on view.

The Architecture of Francis Kéré: Building With Community

"Featuring exhibitions of historic and contemporary African art and architecture, the series aims to foster an understanding of African art and culture as a dynamic and complex conversation between past and present, tradition and innovation, the local and the global," the museum said.

Other shows related to African architecture and design include a sweeping exhibition in 2015 at Copenhagen's Louisiana Museum, which presented work by Kéré, Heinrich Wolff, SelgasCano and others. The Vitra Design Museum also mounted an exhibition about African design last year.

Photography is by Tim Tiebout, unless otherwise stated.

Project credits

Architect:Kéré Architecture, Diébédo Francis Kéré
Design team: Adriana Arteaga, Blake Villwock – project architects, Daniel Heuermann, Nanna Friis
Project management: Jack Schlecter, Jamie Montgomery, James Bassett-Cann – Philadelphia Museum of Art
Curators: Kathryn B. Hiesinger, Colin Fanning – Philadelphia Museum of Art
Audio/video: Stephen Keever – Philadelphia Museum of Art
Collaborators: University of Pennsylvania Undergraduate Architecture students – sounds
Volunteers: Philadelphia Museum of Art staff and volunteers, Young Friends of the Philadelphia Museum of Art Executive Board and event committee, and museum visitors

Colorscape installation by Kéré Architecture
Diagrams explaining the overlay of two urban typologies to form the installation – click for larger image