In conversation with Design Awards 2016 judge and architect David Adjaye

Smithsonian National Museum
David Adjaye at his soon-to-open Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington DC
(Image credit: Photography: Stefan Ruiz)

For architect David Adjaye, 2015 was a banner year. In addition to putting the finishing touches to career-topping works, such as the Aïshti Foundation in Beirut (W*200) and the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington DC, he enjoyed rave reviews for the retrospective exhibition at the Art Institute of Chicago (with the help of Munich’s Haus der Kunst). 

But the invitation to join our judging panel was as much a recognition of the mark he has made in his field since first opening his office in 1994 as this annus mirabilis

Much is made of Adjaye’s expert use of different materials in the skin of buildings. But he is more concerned with developing a deep understanding of a building’s purpose as defined by its location, and the social and historical implications of his design. ‘All my choices,’ he says, ‘offer insight into how one might invest in culture, history, the built environment and beyond with a rigour that achieves enrichment, edification and beauty. This quest is at the heart of my practice.’

His sense of mission also informed his votes for our Judges’ Awards. He hails OMA’s Fondazione Prada for its ‘much needed injection of vitality into a neglected part of Milan. It avoids an obvious object statement. Instead, it opts for a subtle network of contemporary modifications and new insertions that knit together seamlessly.’

In the Best New Private House category, he praises Sameep Padora’s Lattice House for being ‘extraordinarily attuned to the climate and culture of India, using age-old techniques to contemporary effect. The system of wood lattice screens mediates the building environmentally, while also achieving privacy throughout the interior.’

For Designers of the Year, the Bouroullecs got Adjaye’s vote. ‘Their designs not only refine, but enrich the everyday experience, through an acute observation of it.’

An experienced product designer himself (his seating for Moroso launched in 2015), no doubt Adjaye has more up his sleeve in that field. Indeed, 2016 promises to be another landmark year for him. In addition to the Studio Museum in Harlem and the World Bank HQ in Dakar, he is working on a hospital in Rwanda and two mixed-use developments in London.

As originally featured in the February 2016 issue of Wallpaper* (W*203)

The Design Awards 2016

(Image credit: Stefan Ruiz)

See the Design Awards 2016 in full – including our extra-special Judges' Awards - here


Photography: Stefan Ruiz

Daven Wu is the Singapore Editor at Wallpaper*. A former corporate lawyer, he has been covering Singapore and the neighbouring South-East Asian region since 1999, writing extensively about architecture, design, and travel for both the magazine and website. He is also the City Editor for the Phaidon Wallpaper* City Guide to Singapore.