Catching Up with Sir David Adjaye

Catching Up with Sir David Adjaye

For renowned architect Sir David Adjaye, known for his eclectic material and color palette and capacity to offer a rich civic experience, imagination has always been key. With projects around the world including the Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C. and the Moscow School of Management, the London-based architect continues to leave his distinct mark on everything he designs – including our new, concrete wireless speaker in black. We sat down with Adjaye to discuss his projects and inspirations below:


What fueled your initial interest in pursuing architecture?
I have had incredible people my entire career who have fueled my interest, from the first person who encouraged me to look at design, to my architecture degree course tutor who still works with me today. Through to industry colleagues who continue to support me. 

However what and who initially fueled pursuit of architecture rather than the sciences, was that I was always interested in drawing and using my imagination as a kid, and I was encouraged by a teacher to do an art foundation course. It was during that time that my preoccupation with space came to the fore and I realized that I wanted to study architecture. I wanted an art form that was in service to the public, in service to our idea of our civilization and our idea of our collective. Architecture provides me the opportunity to produce art that has this kind of direct impact, that capacity for social edification. That level of engagement, with the challenges and responsibilities that accompany it, is what ultimately keeps me invested in my work.

What is the most satisfying part of your design process?
Seeing the final result!

Sunken House, London 2007. Photographs by Ed Reeve

What are some ways you document or keep track of the things and places that inspire you?
As you can imagine there is a myriad of documentation required within an architecture practice from the physical, such as models, machetes, sketches, a vast materials library not to forget the technical project drawings.  At Adjaye Associates I have a dedicated Archive Team that assists in cataloguing and archiving all these various materials relating to my design thoughts and practice. However it is the in depth research that informs my architecture before even a pen hits page that is the most exciting and invaluable of all my material archive, assisted by Adjaye Associates Research Team and used to inspire and intellectualize my design, inform and educate my teams and provide robust reference and intelligence within my publications, thesis and lectures.  These inspirations can take many forms  – from personal photography I take on my travels and curate my social platforms (Adjayes Visual Sketchbook on Instagram) through to deep contextual research such as my decade long studies on African that have informed my publication (Adjaye Africa Architecture, Thames and Hudson)

Your work is global. How do you design with local nuances and practices in-mind?
I very much see architecture as a narrative tool; it is a way to emerge and continue stories about place. And what is most interesting to me is to contribute in ways that make visible those soft nuances or nearly forgotten remnants of place that are often overlooked. So, to me, the challenge of a global practice is the opportunity, which is to create designs that understand and resonate with their context is a deeply meaningful and sophisticated way. This is a tall order when working in places that are unfamiliar, because the task is not to authorise or eroticise, but to find a real empathy.  

Designing the Museum of African American History and Culture, a new home for the Studio Museum in Harlem and the National Holocaust Memorial and Learning Centre in London could each be considered the dream project of a lifetime. Is there anything left on your bucket list and what do you hope your legacy will be?
I don’t have a bucket list – for me the future of architecture is about re-invention, the creation of new typologies and pushing boundaries, this I want to be my legacy.
Intricate Exterior Details for the Museum of African American History and Culture, Washington DC

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