David Adjaye is more at home than most architects in a gallery setting. He thinks like a conceptual artist, creating spatial experiences with light, form and exotic materials that have the power to make us think. Fusions of art, artefact and space, his built work is more tangible than most, interesting to the touch. He takes a similar multifaceted approach to his small-scale constructions, photography and furniture as well.
'Form, Heft, Material', on through May at the Haus der Kunst in Munich, is therefore a great journey for a follower of contemporary culture. If you've never had the fortune to experience one of Adjaye's spaces up close, this is the next best thing. Rather: this is your chance. Curator Okwui Enwezor - along with Zoë Ryan, the John H Bryan chair and curator of architecture and design at the Art Institute of Chicago - have brought in the entire wood-slat 'Horizon' pavilion, designed by Adjaye for Albion Barn in Oxford, and the monolithic furniture he created to complement it.
'Horizon' is one of more than 45 projects in this largest-ever survey of the African-born, London-based architect, which includes drawings, models, sketches, films, and large-scale fragments of projects. His unique approach that defies convention gives his projects hybridised qualities: part monumental, part delicate, they are emotional and alive with meaning. Many of these projects feature in bold photographs by Ed Reeve, a friend for whom Adjaye also designed one of his first rule-breaking homes in London.
One of our most international architects, with offices on four continents and a particular affinity for African urbanism, Adjaye is difficult to pin down because of his esoteric style and his reimagining of location-based motifs. What unifies his buildings are their dissolution of barriers and their ability to develop and engage communities. A room in the exhibition is dedicated to his extensive fieldwork in Africa, resulting in two books, an office in Ghana and projects like Ghana's Cape Coast Slavery Museum and even the forthcoming Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC) in Washington, DC. Compared with his private residential commissions in London and New York, for instance, those latter projects are amazingly permeable.
Less a retrospective than an exploration of future potential, 'Form, Heft, Material' opens a discussion around what buildings can strive for in the 21st century. There are few better architects to illustrate how socially effective architecture can be.