David Ad­jaye is one of the most suc­cess­ful ar­chi­tects in the world, with projects rang­ing from the No­bel Peace Cen­tre in Oslo to Riv­ing­ton Place arts cen­tre in London. Here, he talks about his in­spi­ra­tions and his lat­est work

ELLE Decoration (UK) - - Front Page -

David Ad­jaye dis­cusses his lat­est projects and we look at Sir Richard Rogers’ favourite build­ing, the ‘Glass Lan­tern’

What in­spired you to be­come an ar­chi­tect?

I think I’ve al­ways had an ar­chi­tec­tural brain; I just didn’t know what ar­chi­tec­ture was to start with. I was for­tu­nate enough to have been brought up in many dif­fer­ent coun­tries and cul­tures – from Tanzania to Egypt – all with dif­fer­ent ar­chi­tec­tural styles: Mod­ernist build­ings, com­pound houses in cities and small coun­try vil­lages where huts were stan­dard. In North Africa, the pub­lic en­vi­ron­ment was very much a male space, while court­yards and fam­ily spa­ces were fe­male. I was ex­posed to all these is­sues very early on; I thought they were the norm. At around 18, I fi­nally re­alised that those is­sues had some­thing to do with ar­chi­tec­ture.

How can ar­chi­tects bring value to hous­ing de­sign?

I be­lieve they can help turn the in­tan­gi­ble – re­la­tion­ships, cul­ture, ways of liv­ing – into a phys­i­cal frame­work. Ar­chi­tects dis­til the hu­man el­e­ment into build­ing form. How won­der­ful is that? But with house de­sign it’s as much about func­tion.

What has been your favourite project to date?

I don’t have a favourite, but cer­tain projects do stand out, such as the se­ries of artists’ res­i­dences that I de­signed in London soon af­ter I set up my prac­tice in 2000. The project gave me an op­por­tu­nity to en­gage with the city and its cul­tural thinkers. My next break­through was a wave of civic build­ing com­mis­sions in the cap­i­tal, in­clud­ing the Bernie Grant Arts Cen­tre ( 2), Idea Stores in Whitechapel, and the Stephen Lawrence Cen­tre in Dept­ford. These were an op­por­tu­nity to de­sign on a larger scale; I was able to think about how ar­chi­tec­ture can com­mu­ni­cate with the com­mu­nity. Mov­ing on, the com­mis­sion for Den­ver Art Mu­seum ( 4) was a big suc­cess in Amer­ica. It led to a num­ber of other projects, as well as the open­ing of my New York of­fice.


What are you cur­rently work­ing on? A mas­ter plan in San Fran­cisco, a res­i­den­tial de­vel­op­ment in Jo­han­nes­burg, a mixed-use de­vel­op­ment in London’s Pic­cadilly ( 3) and a con­tem­po­rary art mu­seum in Latvia. I feel very grate­ful to be work­ing glob­ally and across so many dif­fer­ent scales.

How im­por­tant has it been to you to de­sign the Na­tional Mu­seum of AfricanAmer­i­can His­tory (1)?

It’s a piv­otal project for me. It has al­ways been about cre­at­ing a mu­seum that has a nar­ra­tive along­side a strong uni­ver­sal mes­sage. The African-amer­i­can story is one that is in­cred­i­bly in­ter­est­ing. My in­ten­tion was for the mu­seum to tran­scend the un­easy fact of the marginalised AfricanAmer­i­can ex­pe­ri­ence through an ex­plo­ration of his­tory and so­ci­ety. I es­pe­cially wanted to show­case the pos­i­tive value that is in­her­ent in cre­at­ing a fo­rum for mul­ti­ple in­ter­pre­ta­tions of Amer­ica’s his­tory – how­ever un­com­fort­able those in­ter­pre­ta­tions may be (ad­

‘Ar­chi­tects dis­til the hu­man el­e­ment into build­ing form. How won­der­ful is that?’

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