Sir David Adjaye - Leading architect of his generation

Gus Franklyn-Bute Editor-in-Chief

Sir David Adjaye has been recognised by The Royal Academy of Arts as a leading architect of his generation. In March 2017, David Adjaye was elected to the collective, known as Royal Academicians, who are said to be some of the greatest artists and architects in contemporary art and architecture. The high accolade follows a string of international honours, including Adjaye’s knighthood for services to architecture in the Queen’s 2017 New Year’s Honours list.

The Royal Academy of Arts (RA) Elects Sir David Adjaye to Royal Academician

Photo by Ed Reeve

David Adjaye was born in Tanzania to Ghanaian parents founded Adjaye Associates in 2000, and immediately won numerous prestigious commissions, including the Nobel Peace Centre in Oslo (2005) and the Idea Stores in London (2005), which were credited with pioneering a new approach to the provision of information services. The Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC) is the largest project to date, and the stunning $540 million museum on the National Mall in Washington DC was opened in September 2016 following a dedication ceremony with President Barack Obama – an event the New York Times named the cultural event of the year. The NMAAHC has welcomed more than 1 million visitors to date, and it the only national museum devoted exclusively to the documentation of African American life, art, history, and culture.

Smithsonian Institution, NMAAHC – Photo by Douglas Remley (Smithsonian)

Through Adjaye Associates, David Adjaye aspires to leverage architecture to transformation, enrich and improve lives of the diverse communities that his civic buildings are designed to serve. His architectural vision and mantra belongs to, and yet diverges from their contexts, absorbing and animating difference rather than homogenising. The approach to planning and urbansim reflects his vision as:

“one that promotes multiple interpretations of the civic experience. The approach to urban development is driven by the human-scaled complexities of urban living in parallel with the driving forces of topography, geography and climate. The celebration of difference that lies at the heart of the practice’s architecture feeds into its masterplanning projects – whether school and university campuses, re-developed urban quarters or entirely new cities. The work avoids monolithic statements and the use of utility logics to organise urban frameworks.” – Adjaye Associates

Moscow School of Management SKOLKOVO

In the age of smart and future cities where collaboration, connectivity and sustainability are principal drivers, Adjaye’s aptitude to for navigating various lexicon of knowledge – from science, engineering and environment to artistic intervention or community involvement – is key to the masterplanning methodology. Collaboration with artists and cultural thinkers that see space and structure as integral to their work is critical to his approach to design, seeing this an opportunity ‘to merge the skills of aesthetics to create something that has more potential than either discipline can achieve on its own.’

Some of Adjaye’s collaboration with contemporary artists on art and installation projects, The Upper Room, with 13 paintings by Chris Ofili (2002), Within Reach, and the Thyssen-Bornemisza Art for the 21st Century Pavilion designed to show a work by Olafur Eliasson, Your Black Horizon, at the 2005 Venice Biennale. Adjaye worked with curator Okwui Enwezor on the design of the 56th Venice Art Biennale (2015).

Sugar Hill Project Photo by Wade Zimmerman

Adjaye Associates has offices in London, New York and Accra with projects in the US, UK, Europe, Africa, Asia and the Middle East. These include the Moscow School of Management SKOLKOVO (2010), the Sugar Hill mixed-use social housing scheme in Harlem, New York (2015); the Aishti Foundation retail and art complex in Beirut (2015); and two neighbourhood libraries in Washington DC (2012). Prominent ongoing projects include a new home for the Studio Museum in Harlem, New York, a major neighbourhood masterplan in San Francisco, and One Berkeley, a £600 million redevelopment project in London’s prestigious Piccadilly area.

He was awarded an OBE for services to architecture in 2007, received the Design Miami/Artist of the Year title in 2011, the Wall Street Journal Innovator Award in 2013 and the 2016 Panerai London Design Medal, awarded by the London Design Festival.

Panerai London Design Medal

David Adjaye is widely acknowledged as a role model for future generations. He participates in exhibitions, lectures, symposia, publishing projects and television. The research arm of the practice is vital to the creative discourse that drives its built work.

Adjaye’s new book Constructed Narratives available to order from Lars Müller online shop is out now. Constructed Narratives brings together essays and recently completed buildings by David Adjaye.  The work outlines his approach to the design of temporary pavilions and furniture, private houses, and installations at the 2015 Venice Biennale feeds into his designs for public buildings. Other essays discuss his engagement with geography, the urban environment, his approach to materiality, and architectural types.

This blog draws from “David Adjaye RA Elect” published by The Royal Academy of Arts.


1 April, 2017