I’m writing an essay on David Adjaye for Professor Blier’s course on Contemporary African Art and our assignment this week was to write a short bio of our artist:

David Adjaye is a Ghanaian born in Tanzania to ethnically Yoruba parents. But it’s not that straight forward. Over the years Adjaye has continually grown into an international citizen as his diplomatic father was posted across Africa and the Middle East during the early decades of Ghana’s independence, as he attended art school and launched his firm in London once his family settled there, and, more recently, as he broadened the footprint of his offices into America, Germany, and Africa in an effort to stabilize his practice in the aftermath of the financial downturn. Yet Adjaye has forged a distinct design style by continuously drawing on Africa’s history and culture — a history and culture he has learned by reading widely in whatever small bits of free time he has — as inspiration for the bold forms and intricate patterns he infuses his projects with. The other, overlapping motif of Adjaye’s designs and career is that he was trained as an artist and only fell into architecture by chance when his design for a cafe attracted attention from firms in London. Across much of Africa, artists and architects are one and the same as buildings are at once dwellings to be designed for living in and at the same time are sculptures — often literal blocks of wood to be carved and molded into patterns and figures. The houses Adjaye made his name with in the beginning of his firm’s existence in the early 2000s, are both highly livable abodes and at the same time artist installations infused with thoughtful forms and patterns worked into the shell of the building. Working mostly in northern cities, Adjaye has preferred to use materials (especially black concrete) that are as at home in their surrounding cold, industrial environment as wood, thatch, and clay are in traditional African architecture. Within five years of existence, Adjaye’s designs caught the broader world’s attention and soon he was designing the Oslo Nobel Peace Center (2005), Denver Museum of Contemporary Art (2007), with his profile reaching a zenith in 2009 when his design was selected for the National Museum of African American History and Culture (set to open in 2015–see previous post). Recently, encouraged by the rise of economic opportunity in Africa that many businesses have begun to take notice of, Adjaye has turned his eye back to Africa and is at the forefront of designing on the continent, undertaking a series of projects from Accra to Kampala.

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