A huge wooden disc will float above the lawn in Kensington Gardens this summer, a wheel of spindly timber slats hovering over a bright blue landing pad like some rustic flying saucer.
This is the vision of Diébédo Francis Kéré, the first African architect to be chosen to design the annual Serpentine gallery pavilion, who plans to bring one of his characteristically stripped-back structures, honed in the villages of his native Burkina Faso, to leafy west London.
“The tree was always the most important place in my village,” he says, describing the inspiration for his design. “It is where people come together under the shade of its branches to discuss, a place to decide matters, about love, about life. I want the pavilion to serve the same function: a simple open shelter to create a sense of freedom and community.”
While the scorching sun might be the thing to shelter from in the deserts of west Africa, Kéré has configured his London canopy more with rain in mind, designing the shallow saucer to funnel water into a central opening, where a ring of slender steel trusses will support the great wooden bowl.
The space will be loosely enclosed by a series of curving blue walls, formed of staggered wooden blocks in a textile-like pattern, a reference to the festive clothing worn by young men in his village on special occasions.
“I’m coming to London,” he says, “so I wanted to show myself with my best clothes.”
In its frugal simplicity, the pavilion is a departure from recent years’ structures that have revelled in their sculptural novelty or shouted for attention with bright colours and synthetic materials.
It is an apt reflection of Kéré’s work in Africa, where he has established an international reputation for designing sparing structures with mud bricks and lightweight steel frames, often built by unskilled labour with an elegant economy of means.
Kéré initially considered using bricks for the pavilion walls, but was clearly advised against turning the royal park into a mud quarry.
“I told myself, ‘Francis, don’t try to change yourself for this commission’,” he says. “Remain true to how you started, but do a little bit more.
Here I have the chance to work with amazing engineers, so we can make the steel very thin and have an impressive cantilever.”
Kéré was born in 1965 in the village of Gando, a place with no running water or electricity, 125 miles southeast of the capital of Ouagadougou, making him unique as an architect who now moves in the glamorous circles of international biennales and professorships at Harvard.
His face is still ringed with tribal scars in a pattern of spokes, marking him out as the son (and sun) of the village chief, a position of privilege that gave him the rare chance to attend high school in the city.
At 18, he won a scholarship to study woodwork in Germany, but, realising there was not much use for carpentry in a country that has little wood, he switched to study architecture at the Technical University of Berlin.