Dano Secondary School
Too Cool for School: Architect Francis Kéré relies on simple solutions for a humble learning space near his hometown in West Africa.
As the sun beats down on the West African dust and shrub at 100-plus degrees Fahrenheit, students at Dano Secondary School in Burkina Faso keep their cool. How? Natural ventilation is the answer.
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Its cooling touch flows through the Dano school’s three 615-square-foot classrooms, 560-square-foot computer room, and teacher’s office, which make up the bulk of the low-slung, red-brick, L-shaped structure. The school sits among trees in a roughly groomed, red-gravel clearing, approachable from all directions as, more likely than not, its 150-odd students are walking/cycling here from every which way.
Two of the classrooms are attached, each with separate entrances. An oval outdoor common area separates this part from the third detached classroom, which forms the base of the “L” as it turns up toward the small computer lab and teacher’s office. Hanging over the entire structure is a single unifying piece—the gleaming scalloped roof, made from corrugated tin and sitting on latticed rebar trusses. It’s a striking feature popping out against the flat red dust of the Burkinabe plain, catching the eye along with little vertical splashes of primary color—the long, low lamella windows. As it turns out, these are the main components of the ventilation system bringing sweet relief from the heat.
Far to the north, metropolitan Berlin is coming out of its German winter slumber, gripped in ice. Francis Kéré is bone-tired, a little ill, and in a hurry to catch a plane back down to the heat in Ouagadougou, the capital of his native country Burkina Faso. Dano is another 130 miles from there over dirt roads to the southeast, on the way to the Ghanaian border. Back and forth Kéré goes from his one-architect shop in bohemian Kreuzberg. He does his designing in Berlin, but almost all of his building in southern locations such as Mali, Yemen, India, and, of course, Burkina Faso.
Kéré left his small village in Burkina Faso in the early 1990s to make good. He was drawn to Germany by a locally administered development scholarship after working as a carpenter. As he was studying he became increasingly more engaged with the idea of building a school back in his hometown of Gando after villagers told him the old school was nearing collapse. He raised the funds and finished the Gando Primary School in 2001, while he himself was still a student at the Berlin Technical University.
Dano is Kéré’s second school project and was completed in 2007. It shares some of the features of the Gando project, further grounding the architect’s basic concept of creating architecture reflective of, if not dictated by, the local environment and economy. Materials include locally cut laterite, a clay containing iron which hardens when exposed to air, a fine cooling insulator. He uses non-industrial construction techniques and builds innovative, elegant, distinctive yet simply constructed split-level roofing and ceiling structures. His corrugated tin roofs keep the rain off hand-pressed sand and earth bricks.
Kéré gains inspiration from his own past, while focusing on design features. As a child, he had to travel a long distance to school and sat crammed with other chil-dren in stifling heat. As he told the German television station 3sat recently, when it’s 104 degrees in the shade, the indoor temperature is unbearable. “You can’t move,” he said. “I won’t ever forget that.”
Burkina Faso imports all of its scant power resources. Even in a market town of 11,000 people like Dano, there’s not much electricity to go around, Kéré says. “So there is no air-conditioning. It’s too expensive for a country like Burkina Faso.”
His solution for the Dano school starts with tall lamella windows slats that can be adjusted to control the light. Three to a room, they also draw air into the classroom. From there the split-level ceiling and roof structure takes over. Warmed from the outside, the air near the ceiling rises up and out, making room for more air to enter below. “We made the ceiling like waves,” Kéré says. Composed of concrete and brick, the ceiling looks like inverted barrel vaulting. At the junction where each wave comes together appears an opening to the roof above, consisting of a slit cut across the ceiling about eight inches wide.
The lattice then creates an open space angled to the corrugated tin above, prompting a breeze to carry off the warm air rising from within the room. It’s not that the air is going to get much cooler, Kéré explains, but anyone who lived in the south with a ceiling or a box fan will tell you that moving air makes things more comfortable. “When you create this physical aspiration, it takes the heat away constantly,” he says.
From design to labor to construction, Kéré adapts to local conditions and turns them to his advantage. The truss structure for the roof was built on the ground in modules and lifted atop the school—no need for a crane, which wouldn’t have been available anyway. Members of the com-munity created the school floors. Working to the beat of drums, they pounded the earth flat with mallets and then polished it with stones. “You cannot destroy it,” Kéré says. “It is durable.”