As London’s Design Museum opens a new exhibition of Sir David Adjaye’s best and most iconic work, I’d like to write a little about what has made him such a favourite of mine.
He’s an architect that likes to bend the rules and carve his own path. “If you want a very tasteful, elegant thing you’re not going to come to David Adjaye,” he recently told the FT. “I’m very interested in clients who have a strange site that has a difficulty. Those are the projects I gravitate towards, and those are the kind of clients that gravitate towards me.”
Sir David earned recognition fast. He only settled in the UK when he was nine (he moved around a lot as a child, his father was a Ghanian diplomat), but on graduating with a BA in Architecture from London South Bank University he won a worldwide RIBA bronze medal. On on achieving his MA in architecture from the Royal College of Art, he won RIBA President’s Medals Students Award.
His achievements have been recognised beyond the industry, too. In 2007 he earned an OBE, and he was knighted a decade later.
He began designing houses and was soon popular among the rich and famous, working on the homes of designer Alexander McQueen, actor Ewan McGregor, and designing a beachfront studio for the artist Chris Ofili.
He was soon working on much grander projects, often those with social significance. He is the architect behind the UK’s National Holocaust Memorial, the National Cathedral of Ghana and the Mass Extinction Memorial Observatory – each stunning pieces of work.
And perhaps one of his most notable works is the recently opened $500m National Museum of African American History in Washington DC. Not only is it a beautiful building from an aesthetic point of view, making good use of ironwork, but for this project he played with form and function. The rooms dedicated to slavery are intentionally smaller than they need to be, a brilliant way of conveying the claustrophobia that the subjects on the walls would have felt being transported against their will.
Sir David also dedicates much of his time to fostering the next generation of architects. He’s held formal posts at a number of universities, including Princeton, he sits on a number of boards relating to design and architecture in the UK and around the world, including RIBA, AIA and those further afield such as the Advisory Council of the Barcelona Institute of Architecture. He is not only the mind behind many iconic pieces of architecture, but a great ambassador for our industry.