Site History and Significance
A New Architectural Language
La Maison du Peuple, or the House of the People, was commissioned after Upper Volta (now Burkina Faso) declared independence from France in 1960 and served for decades as a platform for political debate and the exercise of democratic governance.
When the building was inaugurated in 1965, Africa stood at the threshold of a new era. Across the continent, those subject to colonial powers were gaining independence and establishing new populist governments. This was a time of hope, optimism, and renewal that was reflected in new civic architecture symbolizing independence and democratic ideals. La Maison du Peuple is a prime example of this new architectural language.
A Uniquely Burkinabè Design
La Maison du Peuple was designed by French architect René Faublée, who conceived of a brutalist building with important references to local vernacular architecture. Brutalism, whose name derives from béton brut (raw concrete), privileges imposing, monolithic structures of undressed poured concrete.
Here, however, the building’s concrete facade mimics the rich color, texture, and patterning of Burkina Faso’s vernacular earthen buildings. The whimsical lanterns on the roof are reminiscent of traditional Mossi architecture and serve as passive ventilation ducts that promote convection to cool the interior while also providing natural light to the main auditorium. Eminent Burkinabè architect Francis Kéré has called la Maison du Peuple “the finest example of modernist architecture in Burkina Faso and one of the most important examples of modernism in Africa.”
An Advanced State of Decay
La Maison du Peuple, which has withstood political uprisings and military governments, continues to serve the public and is still used for concerts and events despite its advanced state of decay. Lacking legal heritage protection, the site suffers from long-deferred maintenance and repairs due to the lack of local expertise on the conservation of reinforced concrete architecture. As the older generation associated with independence passes, knowledge of the building and its significance are disappearing. With little information available about its rich history, la Maison du Peuple becomes increasingly vulnerable to destruction by developers, particularly given its prime location in the capital of Ouagadougou.
2022 World Monuments Watch
The Maison du Peuple was included on the 2022 World Monuments Watch to raise awareness of this architectural marvel while contributing to its conservation and the development of a sustainable reuse plan to ensure its future. A key part of this project will be training local architecture students and young professionals in the conservation of reinforced concrete, providing the necessary tools and technical knowledge for assessing and conserving modernist structures like la Maison du Peuple. The training will be implemented through hands-on workshops led by a team of local and international consultants. Additionally, fieldwork and training with students from the University of Ouagadougou’s Burkinabè Institute of Arts and Crafts will lay the groundwork for a condition assessment of la Maison du Peuple and will include a conservation plan and recommendations for restoration work.
Another component of the project will focus on the collection and dissemination of knowledge about the site. Archival research and oral histories will shed greater light on the significance of the building to heritage professionals, local authorities, schools, and the people of Ouagadougou. In collaboration with project partners from the University of Ouagadougou and the Agence du Développement Économique Urbain (ADEU), which manages the site, World Monuments Fund (WMF) will launch a communications campaign to raise awareness of the importance of La Maison du Peuple and modernist post-colonial architecture in Burkina Faso. A digital archive will be created in collaboration with the University of Ouagadougou, and an exhibition on the site will be launched there before touring regional universities in West Africa. The project will also be featured as part of an exhibit at the Venice Biennale.
Through the World Monuments Watch, WMF collaborates with local partners to design and implement targeted conservation programs—including advocacy, planning, education, and physical interventions in the historic built environment—to improve human well-being through cultural heritage preservation.
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