The architectural brilliance of David Adjaye

admin | 4/5/2012, 4:30 a.m.

David Adjaye, 44, is a name you may not immediately recognize but hes become a fixture in the world of architecture and is what most experts call a rising star. His most recent achievement was being chosen to design the $500 million National Museum of African American History and Culture, part of the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C., that is slated to open in 2015. However, his selection should not be taken lightly. He beat out some of the worlds most established architects, including Norman Foster, 74, Henry Cobb, 83 and Moshe Safdie, 71. He has major cultural commissions that include the Nobel Peace Center in Oslo and has gotten considerable praise for work on the Moscow School of Management and the Museum of Contemporary Art in Denver both recently opened. And heres the caveat: Adjaye is Black born in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania and the son of a Ghanaian diplomat. Hes lived in Yemen, Lebanon and then London when he was nine. And he has been prepared for greatness privately-educated with a Bachelor of Arts from London South Bank University and a Master of Arts from the Royal College of Art. Adjaye was in Miami several months ago, making new friends, observing the architecture of Miami and enjoying the accolades that come with being chosen as Design Miamis Designer of the Year for 2011. But while some want to pretend that it doesnt exist, Adjaye knows that he has reached a place of prominence that is unique for a man of color and that in his field, he sticks out like a sore thumb. People say Im an African architect but even saying African is way too general, he says. Im Ghanaian. Thats my sensibility. Technique is what Ive learned from the West. So I say Im a British-Ghanaian architect. Charity projects are closest to his heart Adjaye is without question an A-list architect. But what sets him apart from his colleagues is that while he keeps getting major institutional projects with very large budgets, he also goes for smaller, charity-driven ones socially-minded public projects like the flood-resistant homes in New Orleans or Idea Stores, a new age library in one of Londons working class neighborhoods that is fused with a community center. The center has a childrens play area, computer center, cafe and outdoor market. This is where Adjaye says he finds his real inspiration. My research, my interest is in the social aspects of the production of architecture how it influences society and what it is in different parts of the world. In what is aptly-described as a white mans profession, Adjayes race and youthful exuberance are a wonderful combination. Still, he realizes that its almost impossible to escape the race question. Race is the elephant in the room every room, he said. Yes, I am a Black architect. By D. Kevin McNeirkmcneir@miamitimesonline.com