Mark Byrnes is a senior associate editor at CityLab who writes about design and architecture.
Burkina Faso has one of the lowest literacy rates in the world. Here's how vendors draw people into their architecturally repetitive kiosks.
David Pace has been photographing Burkina Faso since 2007, visiting the country for two to thee months a year. Originally, he came to document rural libraries built by a colleague's NGO.
But he quickly became fascinated by the country's culture and people. Now, he teaches a digital photography class there through Santa Clara University's study abroad program. When he has free time, he takes his camera and explores the village of Bereba and other cities nearby.
Pace captures engaging views of daily life in the nation of nearly 16 million people. His work shows a typical work day, a night out, or a day at the market. Perhaps most striking are his shots of the many kiosks that serve as places to shop, drink, or eat. At first glance, they seem architecturally repetitive. But each one ends up with its own distinct look thanks to their owners.
"I have always been interested in the idea of similarity and difference and the kiosks are a perfect example of that," says Pace. "As a whole, the kiosks portray the wide range of interests and needs of the people."
Their designs are motivated by more than just aesthetics. Burkina Faso has one of the lowest literacy rates in the world, meaning vendors need to attract potential customers with graphics that clearly show what kind of business is being operated. Pace points out one of his favorite photos, a barbershop kiosk (above), as an especially good example of that.
In the country's larger cities, kiosks are easy to find. But as Pace notes, there's no hint of regulations or top-down planning. "Individual merchants are very entrepreneurial and creative," says Pace, "the kiosks spring up throughout residential neighborhoods wherever a need or opportunity arises."
As a result, each kiosk, its location and appearance end up as a pure reflection of the owner and their sensibilities.