David Adjaye, Francis A. Gregory Neighborhood Library, Washington DC, 2012 (photo © Ed Summer/courtesy of Adjaye Associates)

From the Autumn 2015 Issue of Clef Notes Journal

Perhaps it's due to our priority of function over form, but architectural and furniture design is often overlooked as an artistic effort. But, beginning September 19, the Art Institute of Chicago will change our focus by celebrating the work of David Adjaye, a noted figure in international architecture and design.

Born in Tanzania, Adjaye grew up living in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Lebanon and England, which gave the architect a unique perspective in the appreciation of global design, something he has incorporated into projects the world over.

Visitors to Making Place: The Architecture of David Adjaye at the Art Institute of Chicago will delve into the unique and talented mind of this visionary architect.Adjaye has designed more than 50 projects across the globe, with some notable structures including the Museum of Contemporary Art in Denver, the Nobel Peace Center in Oslo, Norway and the Skolkovo Moscow School of Management in Russia.

In addition to the large public works projects, Adjaye has designed private homes for high profile artists and actors like Ewan McGregor. The idea of a personal retreat is at the center of Adjaye’s residential work.

His work is bold with complexity and contemporary focus. His buildings simultaneously belong to and diverge from their surroundings. They make a noticeable impact on their environments by standing out, rather than blend in, while still embedding themselves aesthetically as indigenous elements of their surroundings.

His civic buildings contrast starkly from traditional institutional design, making bold statements through both plan and materials. Adjaye's building designs incorporate unique angles and shapes, such as the triple-inverted trapezoid structure that is the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture. It makes for a striking profile adjacent to the sleek Washington Monument.The structure’s bronze alloy surface also points to Adjaye’s unique incorporation of diverse textures and material.

Adjaye’s bold visions can be found succinctly in his native Africa, including the design for the downtown of Libreville, the capital city of Gabon. In that country, Adjaye has been tasked to design and develop 40 municipal buildings around the presidential palace creating a municipal core. Part of his work for the project will leverage the local environment providing natural ventilation and making the use of air-conditioning systems only secondarily. Designs from the project will be on display during the Making Place exhibition.

In all, Adjaye has completed more than 50 projects across the world. Each tends to be unique and adaptive to the local influences. Adjaye’s structures address local interest and conditions through both a historical understanding of context and a global understanding of modernism. Adjaye has been described, like other international architects, as itinerant, with design practices defying cultural borders and geopolitical categories. However, because of his background influenced by multiple cultures, Adjaye’s eye is singularly unique in his ability to incorporate the finest of those elements into his work.

While Adjaye has never adhered to a discrete style, his projects coalesce around certain distinct ideas. Often set in cities struggling with diversity and difference, his public buildings provide spaces that foster community and explore how neighborhoods evolve, how new societies are created, and how unexpected junctures weave diverse urban identities and experiences into the tapestry of multiculturalism. A proponent for architecture from beyond the traditional Western canon, Adjaye brings a distinctive contemporary “Afropolitan” view to his battery of global projects.

When it comes to furniture design, Adjaye has created a diverse portfolio of unique pieces, some designed for manufacturers like Knoll, Sawaya and Moroni and Moroso. What’s more is Adjaye’s furniture designs provide a fertile testing ground for form and materials that can later be incorporated into his architectural work.

Making Place: The Architecture of David Adjaye is the first comprehensive museum exhibition dedicated to the architect’s work. This exhibition offers an in-depth overview of the Adjaye’s distinct approach and visual language with a dynamic installation design conceived by Adjaye Associates, his architectural firm based in London.

Adjaye’s influences range from contemporary art, music and science to African art forms and the civic life of cities, and he has collaborated with contemporary artists to add plurality to his design perspective.

The new exhibition, which includes both furniture designed by Adjaye as well as housing, public buildings and master plans, will fill the first-floor Abbott Galleries and the second-floor architecture and design galleries in the Modern Wing of the Art Institute.  In addition to drawings, sketches, models, and building mock-ups, a specially commissioned film featuring Adjaye’s collaborators—an international roster of artists, the exhibition curators, and other influential figures in the hemisphere of art—helps bring his projects to vibrant life and makes clear the important role that Adjaye plays in contemporary architecture today.

Making Place runs through Jan. 3, 2016 at the Art Institute. Visit artic.edu for tickets and more information.

Space Planning

The work of visionary architect David Adejay is on display in a stunning new Art Institute exhibition that examines the bold, innovative and artistic aesthetic of the acclaimed global planner.

By Alex Keown