David Adjaye knows a thing or two about how sound should work in a space. For the British-Ghanaian architect’s ‘Music for Architecture’ collaboration with his DJ brother, Peter, the pair worked together on musical accompaniments to many of the Adjaye’s works. And one doesn’t get to design the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington DC, the Aïshti Foundation in Beirut, retail spaces for the likes of Proenza Schouler, Valextra and Roksanda Ilincic, as well as impressive private residences all over the world without more than a passing understanding of acoustics. Since founding his practice in 2000, Adjaye has also dabbled in furniture design, creating seating for Moroso and Knoll. But the speaker he has developed in collaboration with New York-based audio company Master & Dynamic is a complete departure, and the first time that his musical passion has manifested in a physical product.
‘I have been a fan of architecture and design my whole life,’ says entrepreneur Jonathan Levine, who launched Master & Dynamic in 2014. ‘I wanted to study architecture and was talked out of it, but I have always maintained a love of design and architectural material.’ This love shows in the nostalgic yet contemporary design of the brand’s headphones, its use of finely crafted materials (leather and aluminium) and the superb sound delivered by its products (Frank Ocean, Paul McCartney and Lin-Manuel Miranda are fans).
Levine and Adjaye bonded over a shared love of heft. ‘It’s important to me that all of our products should have some sort of heft and weight,’ says Levine. And architectural heft has long been a quality of Adjaye’s output – a book chronicling his career, published in 2015, was titled Form, Heft, Material. Together, they conceived a sculptural concrete speaker that is part architectural expression, part technological feat.
For the ‘MA770’, as it is known, Adjaye created a light, sinuous shape with a curious triangular back. ‘We introduced a new geometry of sound,’ he says. From its flat front panel, the speaker appears very simple, but the faceted back adds intrigue to the 25kg model. ‘By using triangles we introduced this extraordinary, gentle curve, which creates a sense of gravity in the form,’ adds Adjaye. ‘It’s a beautiful old concept – the notion that richness isn’t necessarily on the outside, but is about you and your intimacy and discovery.’
For Levine, the material was key. ‘I had always envisioned doing a speaker made of concrete,’ he says, but he had been told it couldn’t be done, in terms of both acoustics and manufacturing. He persevered until his team of engineers found the perfect material solution, a polymer with excellent acoustic qualities. ‘This material provides a number of benefits, such as increased dampening, reduced resonance from the enclosure, a purer sound and added durability,’ says Adjaye. Concrete’s dampening qualities are five times better than wood and ten times better than plastic.
The speaker has other impressive features that demonstrate innovative use of materials, such as titanium tweeter domes, woven Kevlar woofers and diamond-cut aluminium controls. An etched steel grille covers the woofers, snapping onto the front via magnets hidden behind the concrete.
The entire development process took just over a year – an impressive turnaround that Levine credits to Adjaye’s skill. ‘David has an innate but very experience driven knowledge of how forms work,’ says Levine. The architect found the experience a rewarding one. ‘Small scale allows me to test out ideas with some immediacy,’ he says. ‘It’s a great contrast to my architectural work, which unfolds across many years. I have a real delight in the samples, the mock-ups and the sketches.
‘What I find fascinating is that a speaker can be everywhere and used by everyone, unthinkingly, in their daily lives – it is a background,’ says Adjaye. ‘There is something very powerful and very rewarding about that.’
As originally featured in the May 2017 issue of Wallpaper* (W*218)