David Adjaye reminds you of that kid in your class you labelled ‘the over achiever”. This was for the simple fact, that whatever they seemed to do, they did it effortlessly and exceptionally well. Till this day, your parents don’t even know that you shared a class with that kid, and they never will. Adjaye recently turned 50 years and is at the prime of his life; so much so the phrases “Architectural visionary” and “leading architect of his generation” have been used to describe him. Just off the top of our heads, he’s been named among Time magazine’s 100 most influential people of 2017, designed the career-defining Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington DC, and won the London Design Medal. Oh, he also received a knighthood from the Queen of England. Yet, you can’t master enough jealousy or scorn for the man. It’s sheer awe and appreciation for his work; whether it’s his building projects or his furniture ranges. But we’re getting a little ahead of ourselves.
Who is David Adjaye OBE (Order of the British Empire)?
Adjaye may live in London now, but he was born in Tanzania to Ghanaian parents. An article published on American modern furniture brand Knoll, highlights what helped him establish in his first office in 1994, ‘[I]nfluences range from contemporary art, music and science to African art forms and the civic life of cities.’ It’s this varied scope, married with his sculptural ability and creative use of material, that helped him to establish himself as an architect with an artist’s vision and sensibility.
Six years later, he reformed his studio as Adjaye Associates and immediately won some exceptionally impressive projects. These include, but not limited to, The Nobel Peace Centre in Oslo (Completed in 2005), The Whitechapel Idea Store in London (2005) and The Bernie Grant Centre for the performing arts (2007). Now Adjaye Associates has offices in Accra, Berlin, London and New York while working on projects in Africa, Asia, Europe, and North America. Asia and Africa. You can see the full architectural highlights of his career here.
But it’s not all Buildings
Adjaye isn’t a one trick pony. His diverse portfolio includes bespoke pieces and furniture that get the same treatment his building projects receive. In fact, it’s said that the furniture has been used as a testing ground for materials and forms they’d like to use in building design. Adjaye also designs production furniture for companies that have been known to have a lush price tag. (We’ve seen a chair for a little bit over $USD10,000). The following are some of the practice’s work:
Project: Stool 7 (2014)
For its first launch, the design website teamed up with Adjaye to create a stool shaped like the number seven. Only 40 pieces of the seat were made and for each piece sold, proceeds went to paying for a child’s school fees in the Kono diamond district in Sierra Leone. Standseven is an online design platform that works with designers, architects, and artists to create limited-edition pieces that meet one of two criteria. Either the piece is educational or it must create employment opportunities.
Project: Double Zero Collection (2015)
At first glance, one could assume that the name ‘double zero’ is about the two circular pads used to form the back and seat of the stools and chairs. The design was derived from the primary composition required in space to support a body.
Client: Sawaya & Moroni
Project: ‘One Series’ furniture collection (2015)
This collection was a response to how the boundaries between work and leisure have become blurred in contemporary living. Adjaye’s answer was a multifunctional furniture system that put together a chaise lounge, table and desk, and a sofa. This innovation, which debuted at Milan Design Week 2015, is a ‘complete habitable cell’. That is, it encourages interaction and compliments any modern compact space.
Project: Washington Collection (from 2013 -2015)
At the same time, he was working on the design for the Smithsonian project, he worked on this multi-faceted furniture range. It started with the Washington Skin™ Nylon Chair that was a colourful take on sculptural and functional design. It’s inverted counterpart, the Washington Skeleton™ Aluminium Side Chair, is reduced to a fine geometric lattice. With elements such as cantilevered legs, these chairs were designed to explore balance and propping in minimalistic form and still support the average weight.
This was later followed by the Washington Prism™ series; namely the Ottoman, Lounge Chair Side Table. These pieces have a defined form that can be viewed from any angle. Thanks to pattern and geometry, he could make furniture that also classify as architectural objects. In an interview with Dezeen, Adjaye explains that, “Prism explores a number of common themes with other pieces in the Washington Collection, such as monumentality, materiality and history…relating specifically to the focus of my architectural work at that time.”
Finally, in the collection is the limited-edition Washington Corona™ Bronze Coffee Table made from four cast bronze panels.
Client: Master & Dynamic
Project: Create Wireless Concrete Speaker for the New York Brand (2017)
His most recent project sees the architect create a wireless speaker encased in a new concrete composite material. Why concrete? To “redefine the home speaker” of course, as well as the additional acoustic benefits. The MA770 has its structural shape because Adjaye chose to forego the traditional box-shape and focuses on directional form. Using this new material allegedly increases the speaker’s lifespan and durability.
Clearly, the man is gifted. Moreover, the Adjaye Associates does projects that are great for humanity in general. He’s built quite a few libraries and is currently working on a children’s cancer treatment centre in Rwanda. Thelma Golden, director and chief curator of the Adjaye-designed Studio Museum in Harlem, perfectly sums up his work as, “deeply rooted in both the present moment and the complex context of history – has envisioned new ways for culture to be represented and reflected in the built environment,” and “one of the great architectural visionaries of our time”. Just glad he wasn’t that kid in our class.