Making Public Buildings

David Adjaye

Exhibition: Sep 11, 2008 – Jan 4, 2009

“Our design approach does not seek to impose a prescriptive solution, but rather aims to open up different possibilities for each individual project and brief, whether that’s a private residence or a new public building. Each time, we try to provide a unique, flexible, and effective response to the brief. Good design has as much of a place in public spaces like libraries, hospitals, and schools as it does in the homes of wealthy individual clients.” – David Adjaye

Organized by the Whitechapel Art Gallery in London, Making Public Buildings presents a selection of Adjaye’s built and planned public spaces in three stages: design, production, and completion. The exhibition highlights the evolution of eight major projects, focusing on their attention to learning, community, and contemporary art.

Known for designing domestic dwellings organized around the unfolding of interior space, Adjaye in recent years has expanded his practice to include civic design. His public projects convey a versatile, yet distinctive spatial language while incorporating the milieu of their locale. This environmental interaction is manifested through a careful consideration of color, material, and light. These concerns are evident in many of Adjaye’s buildings, specifically in his public libraries. Idea Stores, a two-building series located in London, presents a contemporary, flexible solution for public library architecture. Contextuality with the neighborhood is established through the use of green and blue laminated glass on the exoskeleton of the building. These colors, inspired by the colorful market stalls on Whitechapel Road, not only mirror the physical environment, but also establish a brand that is replicated in both structures.

The influence of African art and architecture is integral to Adjaye’s construction of public space. One can trace his angular, geometric aesthetic and community-based sensibility to African elements ranging from textile designs in Ghana to Dogon village houses in Mali. This influence can be seen in Adjaye’s use of varying heights and angular facades in the Stephan Lawrence Centre, a community space for disadvantaged young people. The rhythmic design of the ground plane and the angular multi-structural approach help to construct a visual language that encourages visitors’ interaction with the building before they even cross the threshold.

Among Adjaye’s most recent endeavors, the Museum of Contemporary Art Denver, combines the angular qualities of the Stephan Lawrence Centre with the environmentally integrative techniques employed in the design of the Idea Stores. For the museum, Adjaye has activated an angular facade in order to engage passersby on the busy thoroughfare leading to and from downtown Denver. His use of highly reflective materials on the exterior of the building captures ambient light while emphasizing the importance of the contemporary art housed within.

Making Public Spaces offers the first comprehensive insight into Adjaye’s approach to urban planning and design, one which prioritizes a sensitivity to contextuality and history through a language forged from awareness of community, cultural traditions, and aesthetic prowess.

–Emily Morrison, Curatorial Assistant


David Adjaye

London, England

David Adjaye, founder of London-based Adjaye/Associates, is a rising star in the design community, with a reputation as an architect with an artist’s sensibility and vision. Among his many celebrated and diverse projects are collaborations with important contemporary artists such as Chris Ofili and Olafur Eliasson.
Adjaye was born in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, in 1966. He received his MA from the Royal College of Art, London, UK, in 1993. His work is currently on view at the 7th Gwangju Biennale, South Korea, and Manifesta 7, the European Biennial of Contemporary Art, Amsterdam (both through November 2008). Making Public Buildings has been presented at Whitechapel Art Gallery, London, UK (2006); Netherlands Architecture Institute, Maastricht (2006); The Studio Museum in Harlem, New York, NY (2007); and Museum of Contemporary Art Denver, CO (2007). Adjaye is featured in the TV program Building Africa: Architecture of a Continent, which aired in June 2005. In conjunction with this effort, he began pursuing a personal project documenting each of Africa’s capital cities, to culminate in a forthcoming publication and exhibition at Harvard University, Cambridge, MA (2009). In June 2007, Adjaye was awarded an OBE in the Queen’s birthday honors list for his services to architecture. He received an honorary doctorate from the University of East London in November 2007.

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