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Francis Kéré’s Xylem opens to the public

July 21, 2019

After two years in the imagining and the making, Diébédo Francis Kéré’s new structure for Tippet Rise officially opened to the public on a beautiful Saturday afternoon in mid-July. Named Xylem, the 2,100 square-foot pavilion is nestled in a grove of aspen and cottonwood trees on the bank of Grove Creek at the edge of the art center’s main campus.

Born in Burkina Faso, Kéré is known for his environmentally sustainable, community-centered approach to architecture. His award-winning work spans the globe and includes the 2017 Serpentine Pavilion in London’s Kensington Gardens and a large-scale sculptural installation at this year’s Coachella Festival. Like many of the architect’s projects, Xylem is informed by the traditional architecture of Kéré’s homeland, specifically, in this case, the traditional togunas of the Dogon tribe of Mali and Burkina Faso. The low-roofed structures, often built in the center of the region’s tribal villages, serve as a communal gathering place during the dry season, from October to May, offering relief from the midday heat, a place to rest or discuss village affairs. While a toguna’s roof is typically made with layers of millet, Xylem’s is made with untreated lodge pole and ponderosa pine, vertical bundles that filter and dapple the sunlight.

Like the togunas of his birthplace, Kéré envisioned Xylem as a gathering space. Indeed, it served as a comfortable, airy place for Tippet Rise guests, musicians, and staff to gather that Saturday afternoon for the pavilion’s opening ceremony. Beneath the low-slung canopy, in light that seemed imbued with the greens of the surrounding trees and the golds of the bundles of pine, the group mingled and listened to birdsong and the chatter of Grove Creek. After a short performance by flutist Brandon Patrick George and two members of Canada’s Gryphon Trio, Annalee Patipatanakoon, violin, and Roman Borys, cello, the group toasted the pavilion’s opening.

Xylem is named for the vascular tissue in plants that conducts water and dissolved nutrients upward from the root. In their notes for the ceremony’s program, Tippet Rise co-founders Peter and Cathy Halstead wrote, “Xylem breathes in the water in the soil to make a tree. It is a mechanism for miracles, a scientific metaphor for the birth of the forested world…”

With thunderheads slowly rolling in from the west, Peter Halstead raised his glass and thanked Kéré for “turning an abstract metaphor into a pavilion.”

Xylem provides an aesthetic connection between Tippet Rise and Burkina Faso, but there is another conduit between the Tippet Rise community and Kéré’s birthplace. The Tippet Rise Fund of the Sidney E. Frank Foundation is funding the construction of a new, climatically appropriate school Kéré has designed in his home village of Gando. Opening in January 2020, the Naaba Belem Goumma Secondary School is designed to accommodate approximately 1,000 students from the grassy savanna region that surrounds the village. To read more about the school, which is named for Kéré’s father, please visit the link below.

The Tippet Rise community is profoundly grateful for Kéré’s incredible work and influence at the art center, in Burkina Faso, and around the world.

-by Peter Halstead

Streams of earth that wash the sky
With canopies of vines and leaves,
Wooden coils that amplify
The sound each season weaves,

Morning bent around the crucial air
Whose roots begin in loam.
Bound by the laurels that they wear,
Until at last each rhizome

Flares into rampant troves
Of summer, orchards shower
Blossoms in the frenzied groves,
And all our innate worlds flower,

Human shoots and thickets sprung
From what these primal trunks have wrung.

Photo by Erik Petersen.