David Adjaye Designs the Museum of African American History

Adjaye in the living room of the Lindemann-Dayan house on Manhattan’s Upper East Side.
By Diane Solway
Photograph by Andreas Laszlo Konrath
March 2011

Meet  the most talked about architect in the Diaspora right now – David Adjaye.

In April, the Smithsonian Institution announced that the Freelon ,Adjaye Bond/SmithGroup will be designing the National Museum of African American History and Culture. David Adjaye, a 43-year-old Ghanian architect will be essential to the design and construction of this national project.  However Adjaye is no stranger to prestigious works that spans the globe: his resume includes the Nobel Peace Center in Oslo. Tanzanian born Adjaye had this to say about how growing up in the East African nation shaped his sense of design:

“Unlike people who may have had an education or a stable upbringing in one or two places, I was forced from a very early age to negotiate a wide variety of ethnicities, religions, and cultural constructions. By the time I was 13, I thought that that was normal, and that was how the world was. It gave me a kind of edge in an international global world, which we find increasingly in the 21st century. So I think, in a way, my parents bringing me up the way they did prepared me for the world that we now inherit and live in.

“My design approach always seeks to be highly sensitive to the cultural framework of different peoples. Most of my work has always been in cosmopolitan metropolitan cities, or places where differences are being negotiated all the time. A sensitivity to that is at the heart of my practice.”

Once a mere pipedream on the part of London-based photographer, Ed Reeve, the Sunken House was completed in 2007, 4 years since its conception. Completed with the help of Adjaye, Ed’s Shed – as the house is otherwise known – is a charismatic, Scandinavian-style cube, clad in an abundance of cedar rainscreen. Sat a storey below ground on a sunken foundation, the only house-like characteristic is a mere slit of a window sliced down the front façade.

Clean lines and open windows: interior of Ed’s Shed

The Museum of African American History and Culture will sit right next to the Washington Monument, and will likely be the last museum constructed on the National Mall. The museum is intended to cover more than 400 years of African-American history and culture.

“It is a monumental site and a monumental project and it has taken nearly 200 years to get to this place,” David said candidly. ”Of course, several things absolutely come to mind in thinking through what this building should be and how it should work with the program that we were given.

How do you add to such a fantastic master plan, one of the most significant master plans in the world—this incredible monumental core to the capital city of the most powerful country in the world?

How do you understand its intrinsic nature, which is the idea of the pastoral and the ordered landscape? How do you make an end to the ordered landscape and begin the pastoral, which is the National Mall proper, and then open onto the Washington Monument grounds?”