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