Iwan Baan and Francis Kéré explore light and architecture

Iwan Baan and Francis Kéré explore light and architecture

Photographer Iwan Baan and architect Francis Kéré take a trip to Burkina Faso for an in-depth look at the relationship between light and architecture

People, light and architecture; these are three key themes that dominate the work of both architectural photographer Iwan Baan and architect Francis Kéré. And now, thanks to a new, joint project, this intersection of photography and the built environment can be explored in depth in a series of works produced for the Zumtobel Group’s Annual Report 2020/21.

Titled ‘Momentum of Light’, the project is the result of a trip Baan and Kéré took together to the latter’s home country of Burkina Faso in West Africa. Their goal? To document the role of natural light in vernacular architecture and everyday life there. The pair visited a number of places, including the cities of Bobo-Dioulasso, Tiébélé, Pouni and Gando, which is Kéré’s place of birth. 

‘The interplay of shadow and light in the vernacular architecture of my childhood and youth was my first teacher of pattern and design,’ says Kéré, whose recent works include the sustainable SLAK campus in Kenya. ‘To collaborate with my dear friend and creative companion Iwan Baan to capture the natural light in some of Burkina Faso’s most iconic building traditions has allowed me to revisit and deepen my relationship with these early influences that shape my architecture to this day. I am delighted to finally be able to share an essential detail of what makes me the designer I am today.’

aerial shot in lighting photo series by Iwan Baan and Francis Kéré for Zumthobel
Gando: aerial view of communal housing clusters in Gando spread far apart but connected via pathways leading through land used for subsistence farming

It was those contrasts of light and shadow that inspired the collection of 104 images produced for the series, as the sun’s power and heat has undeniably shaped life within local communities. In this body of work, Baan examines how light affects local architectural traditions and moulds the way buildings work; it is a force to both be harnessed and sheltered from. From subtle nuances to extreme expressions, there was ample inspiration for the photographer in his creative endeavour.

‘I’ve always been fascinated by the ingenuity of traditional, vernacular buildings around the world,’ Baan explains. ‘When the Zumtobel Group commissioned me to make this year’s annual report I felt it was a great occasion to look at the natural ways how light plays a role in the traditional buildings and villages of Burkina Faso. With my friend Francis Kéré, we travelled for over a week to remote parts of the country to document something that had long intrigued me and is difficult to capture.’

The captivating photographic work has been translated into a lush tome by Amsterdam-based graphic designers Sonja Haller and Pascal Brun, of Haller Brun, with whom, says Baan, ‘we managed to transfer the feeling of being in these extraordinary spaces’. Following its publication on the Zumtobel Annual Report, the series will be available as a book by Lars Muller Publishers, and it’s also currently on show at the Kunstmuseum Olten in Switzerland until 11 November.

Picking up on the theme of contrasts, the team composed a publication that feels soft, yet powerful, revelling in its juxtapositions – highlighting the fascinating richness that tells the story of light and architecture in Burkina Faso. §

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