For Ghanaian-British architect, Sir David Adjaye OBE, architecture is about much more than simply building: ‘I’m interested in the way architecture can nurture connections between knowledge, space, and community. Architecture is about ideas and a lens through which to understand different world views.’
First Draft is our interview column, featuring authors and other prominent figures on books, reading, and writing.
Our questions are italicized.
In your earliest days as an architect, what books or kinds of books were foundational to your practice?
In Praise of Shadows by Jun’ichirō Tanizaki.
Pattern Language by Christopher Alexander, Murray Silverstein, and Sara Ishikawa.
Architecture of the Poor by Hassan Fathy.
Some of your recent projects have been libraries. What’s one thing you find interesting about the connection between books, spaces and communities?
I’m interested in the way architecture can nurture connections between knowledge, space, and community. With the advent of the internet, there was a fear that libraries would become obsolete, but this has only led to the rethinking of the library as a social space. My recent library projects are really about cultivating a shared experience and instilling an understanding of the world and where you are specifically within it.
What’s a common misconception people have about architecture?
That it is simply about building. Architecture is about ideas and a lens through which to understand different world views.
I’m interested in the way architecture can nurture connections between knowledge, space, and community.
What are you currently working on?
We are completing the Abrahamic Family House in Abu Dhabi which is an interfaith complex of three religious spaces: a mosque, a synagogue, and a church—all of which sit upon a secular visitor pavilion.
Other projects that are under construction include The Studio Museum in Harlem, the Princeton University Art Museum, the International Finance Corporation in Dakar, Senegal, the District Hospitals in Ghana, The Africa Institute in Sharjah, and King Salman Park in Riyadh.
What’s one way the pandemic has changed your approach to architecture?
The pandemic happened to coincide with the one-year anniversary of my return home to Accra. Being on the continent and embedded within the cultural narratives, geographies, and infrastructure of Accra has become a natural part of my ongoing research.
The pandemic has helped me to synthesize how architecture can respond to context and how context is a series of organic relations that are always evolving. Our pre-colonial societies understood this, and so they created structures that worked within this system of relations between individuals, communities, landscapes, ecologies, and the narratives or mythologies that these inter-relations create.
I’m interested in the ways we can now uphold the traditions of our ancestors, to understand what they were doing, how they were working with material, and what this could mean for the future of architecture on the African continent.
Architecture is about ideas and a lens through which to understand different world views.
What’s one thing that excites you about how architecture is evolving?
One thing that excites me about how architecture is evolving is the fact that it is evolving. Twentieth-century architecture was a moment in which the anthropocentric world was accelerated. We used and consumed material without any regard for what this industrial period would do, and now, with the rise of globalization and global warming, we have to think about how to remedy the problems we’ve caused.
In the twenty-first century, issues like urbanism, diversity, population growth, and climate change have become this new type of curriculum for how we make architecture. We’re finally starting to think within the context of the planet—of what a planetary architecture could be. It’s really about a re-examination or revisiting of the knowledge systems of the ancient world that have been erased through colonization.
Which three African architects currently practicing today should we all be paying attention to?
What conversation would you like to start or further in your next project?
The eternal discussion about what could constitute African architecture today.
I’m interested in the ways we can now uphold the traditions of our ancestors, … and what this could mean for the future of architecture on the African continent.
Question from Mpho Matsipa: What future do you imagine for Africa and how do we get there?
For Africa, I see a renaissance that is already here in which the project of nation-building within our countries is pioneered by us, based on us; structured through our histories and in line with the desires we have as Africans for Africa.
Honouring our ancestral past and recognizing the techniques which existed previously will be a major part of this project because otherwise, we operate with a European modernism that just doesn’t make sense to our geographical and historical context. How can our pasts inform our future? How can we speak to the next generation about the history and spatiality of where they come from?
I believe when we hold these questions—within architecture, art, or politics—we begin to formulate new methodologies for the future we want to envision and create.
Bonus: Please suggest a question for a future author’s First Draft
How do you see the future of the built cultural infrastructure of the continent?⎈
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