Entrepreneur Story: Renowned British-Ghanaian Architect David Adjaye In Focus

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One thing I have come to understand recently is that it is possible to lead a life of influence and still be very lowkey. Most people have attributed being rich and influential with living an affluent life. But you have people like David Adjaye who prefer to live under the radar. I call them the ‘minimalist rich people’.

Maybe if David Adjaye lived and grew up in Ghana he would also be a household name.

So Who is David Adjaye?

Sir David Frank Adjaye is one of the most creative and talented Ghanaians that I know of. He is an accomplished, world class and well acclaimed architect with an enviable global portfolio. He might not be a famous name in Ghana but he is renowned worldwide in the architecture field.

David Adjaye was born on 22 September 1966 in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania where his dad was a diplomat. Thanks to his dad’s career he once lived in Tanzania, Egypt, Yemen and Lebanon. They would eventually settle in London, United Kingdom.

Being a lover of art, he pursued his education in this path. He graduated with an B.Arch. from London South Bank University in 1990 and an M.Arch. from the Royal College of Art in 1993. After graduating from the London South Bank University in 1990, he got nominated for the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) President’s Medals and would go on to win the RIBA Bronze Medal for the best design project carried out at BA level worldwide.

He has attributed much of his architectural designs to his early travels with his father. It allowed him to develop a unique cultural sensitivity and exposed him to a variety of architectural styles.

He worked with a few architectural firms while in school and would go on to partner with William Russell to form Adjaye and Russell in 1994. In 2000, he went on to set up his own practice, Adjaye Associates in London. Today, they now have offices in New York, Ghana and Berlin.

His works have earned him a number of honors and awards. A few examples are the Design Miami/ Designer of the Year award in 2011. In 2007, he was appointed as an Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE). 10 years later he became knighted for his contributions to architecture in 2017. In 2021, he won RIBA’s 2021 Royal Gold Medal, this is one of the highest accolades in the field.

Earlier in his career, his projects focused on retail establishments, restaurants, studios, and private residences. He would later expand to large-scale public buildings.

10 things you must know about David Adjaye

  1. Most of his works are inspired by his childhood travels
  2. He was also influenced by his younger brother’s wheelchair needs. It forced him to contemplate what he called the “social responsibility” of architecture.
  3. In his early adulthood, Adjaye embarked on a ten year project (1999–2010) of photographing and documenting fifty-four major African cities. The images were published as a seven-volume set, Adjaye Africa Architecture: A Photographic Survey of Metropolitan Architecture.
  4. He was knighted in 2017 for his services to architecture; becoming one of only a few architects to have been bestowed such honor.
  5. He is the first Black architect to win the RIBA Royal Gold Medal in its 173-year history.
  6. Adjaye’s favourite tool is his blue Rexel Cumberland pencil. He prefers it sharpened in a carpenter’s style with a knife.
  7. He is a part-time musician. He even has a collaborated record with his brother, Peter Adjaye.
  8. He has a belief that architecture is a ‘Robin Hood’ practice. He says, “for rich people we make things grittier, for poor people we make them glossier.”
  9. He has also designed furniture, clothing, textiles and trophies. He collaborated with Creative Director, Dorothy Cosonas to design textiles for Knoll. He also designed Monoforms, a furniture system based on the language of form and not technical detail. He also designed the Washington Furniture Collection, and the Moroso Double-Zero collection.
  10. Basket player Steph Curry designed sneakers influenced by Adjaye’s NMAAHC (the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture).
  11. He is creating a first of its kind campus in Sharjah for The Africa Institute.
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David Adjaye’s Best Projects

Some of Adjaye’s most popular projects are;

  • National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington DC
  • The Idea Stores in London
  • Francis A. Gregory Neighborhood Library and the William O. Lockridge / Bellevue in Washington DC
  • Museum of Contemporary Art Denver
  • The Aishti Foundation 
  • The Moscow School of Management Skolkovo
  • Home designs  for Alexander McQueen, Jake Chapman, Juergen Teller, Ewan McGregor, and Tim Noble and Sue Webster.
  • The Abrahamic Family House in Abu Dhabi, UAE.
  • National Cathedral of Ghana in Accra, Ghana
  • Princeton University Art Museum

David Adjaye’s Awards, honors  and Recognitions

  • RIBA Bronze Medal for Architecture Students – 1990
  • Design Futures Council Senior Fellow
  • Design Miami/ Designer of the Year Award – 2011
  • Powerlist: Britain’s Most Influential Black Person – 2012
  • Eugene McDermott Award in the Arts at MIT – 2016
  • TIME Magazine‘s 100 Most Influential People – 2017
  • Ghana Legacy Honors Impact in Architecture Award
  • AJ100 Contribution to the Profession Award – 2018
  • Thomas Jefferson Memorial Award – 2018
  • Louis I. Khan Memorial Award – 2018
  • Isamu Noguchi Award from the Noguchi Museum. – 2020
  • RIBA Royal Gold Medal – 2021
  • World Economic Forum’s 27th Annual Crystal Award – 2021

Author Life

Away from architecture, David Adjaye is also an author. Some of his books are,

  • Adjaye Africa Architecture: A Photographic Survey of Metropolitan Architecture
  • David Adjaye: Houses: Recycling, Reconfiguring, Rebuilding (2005)
  • David Adjaye: Making Public Buildings: Specificity, Customization, Imbrication (2006)
  • David Adjaye: A House for an Art Collector (2011)
  • David Adjaye: Authoring: Re-placing Art and Architecture (2012)
  • Constructed Narratives: Essays and Projects (2016)

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