David Adjaye’s Inspirational Architecture

Architecture and interior design are sister disciplines, which explains why we’re so moved by the newly opened exhibition “Making Place: The Architecture of David Adjaye” at the Art Institute of Chicago (AIC) through January 3, 2016. With riveting project models that range from large-scale public works to residences similarly sized to those we design for our clients, and vivid photographs of the finished products to bring these ventures to life, we found the show spellbinding—and inspirational to us as interior designers.

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David Adjaye is the subject of a compelling and visually stunning architecture exhibition at the Art Institute through January 3. Photo: AIC

The show opened with a free lecture sponsored by the AIC’s Architecture & Design Society. For those who aren’t familiar with David Adjaye (and not everyone on our team was), he has offices on four continents but is most well known on this one for the Smithsonian’s National Museum for African American History and Culture (NMAAHC), which will open on the National Mall in Washington DC in 2016. Though he was born in Tanzania to Ghanaian parents (his father was a diplomat), he has had a wildly multi-cultural upbringing as his parents moved throughout Africa, the Middle East and eventually to Great Britain.

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At the Moscow School of Management, where winters are long and bitterly cold, a communal two-story disc unifies three wings and grants year-round access to students. Photo: AIC

Not surprisingly, David Adjaye is constantly on the move and considers himself a citizen of the world. At the lecture last week, he quipped, “My seven-month old has already been to eight cities.” And this inclusive worldview is at the heart of our fascination with Adjaye, who says his groundbreaking projects are influenced by “history, culture, place and geography rather than a signature style.” This aligns with our own design philosophy, which focuses on these concerns as they relate to our clients and shuns signature style. But of course in Adjaye’s case, social responsibility and social justice come into play in his public works.

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The Alara Concept Store in Lagos, Nigeria, is designed to house exhibition and retail spaces for furniture, textiles, fashion, sculpture and art. Photo: AIC

Despite David Adjaye’s style-blind approach, many of his projects do have a healthy dose of modern design-DNA, yet they also embrace elements of various styles and cultures. For instance, his Mole House in London is a traditional, Victorian house at its core; Adjaye inserted a brawn, cubic concrete structure into its derelict shell and topped it with a rooftop pavilion, giving it new life for a couple who are both celebrated contemporary artists. At the Nobel Peace Center in Oslo, David Adjaye collaborated with his friend, British artist Chris Ofili, to create an exuberant mural that gives the contemporary space an eternal, multi-cultural aesthetic.

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A mural by Chris Ofili, a British artist of Nigerian descent, gives the sleek lines of the Café de la Paix at the Nobel Peace Center in Oslo a timeless, multi-cultural appeal. Photo: AIC

Another intriguing example of Adjaye’s skill at blending context and content is the NMAAHC; he wrapped its minimal geometric form with a spectacular copper-colored corona inspired by a Yoruba sculpture. But its intricate metalwork, which has a decidedly Arts and Crafts vibe, pays homage to the freed African American slaves who became renowned as metalworkers in the decades after the Civil War.

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A corona on the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture is inspired by a Yoruba sculpture and pays homage to African-American metalworkers. Photo: AIC

That same intricate latticework is evident in his Washington Skeleton Aluminum Side Chair for Knoll, which is particularly relevant to us since it will be a joy to use it in future projects. The name comes from the fact that he reduced its form to a spare, skeletal shape, yet executed it in a finely patterned, spider-like web that gives is a sophisticated yet restrained ornamental demeanor that can work in any decorative context—luxury or not. It’s also extremely comfortable and comes in six colors, but the most captivating option to our eyes is copper—which actually looks more like a salsa red and makes it a perfect occasional chair to add a hit of cheeky color to our interior design projects.

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We’re smitten with the decorative might of David Adjaye’s Washington Skeleton Aluminum Side Chair for Knoll in copper. Photo: Knoll

This is the first comprehensive museum survey devoted to David Adjaye’s work, and we are proud to note the show originates at AIC and is the brainchild of the museum’s uber-talented architecture and design curator Zöe Ryan. The show couldn’t come at a better time, given that he is rumored be one of the contender’s to design the Barak Obama Presidential Library and Museum.

28 Sep 2015

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