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Traditional African Art Referenced In David Adjaye Architectural Designs

The National Museum of African American History and Culture Architect David Adjaye

Marrying the old with the new British/Ghanaian architect Sir David Adjaye brings the beauty and elegance of traditional African art pieces to several of his contemporary architecture designs. Born in Tanzania to Ghanaian diplomat parents Adjaye grew up in several places including Egypt, Yemen, and Lebanon before the family moved to the UK where he resides. Adjaye founded his architectural practice Adjaye Associates in London and has offices in Ghana and New York. Adjaye also cites a growing interest in Africa, arising from a need to contribute in some way to the development of the continent that began with a decade spent travelling to every African capital city -barring Mogadishu for security reasons- on a journey that saw him document buildings making up architecture in Africa.

[Image credit: The National Museum of African American History and Culture – Douglas Remley (Smithsonian)]

Pattern is a key feature of Adjaye’s architectural designs, either subtly etched into exterior surfaces or more pronounced in the forms emerging from the placement of colour, materials or fittings such as window treatments. The diverse experiences of Adjaye’s multicultural upbringing manifest in his approach to designing buildings, particularly those with a social aspect. Sensitive to the history and cultures of the place in which his buildings are to be found Adjaye often incorporates details with relevant significance, and his African heritage, drawing on iconic traditional African art has made its presence felt in several major designs, among them listed in order of completion:

Idea Store Library Architectural building Whitechapel
kente cloth stripe Ghana textiles

[Image credits: Top, The Idea Store, Whitechapel – Bdonline;
bottom, Kente Cloth – Culturally Situated Design Tools]

The Idea Store in Whitechapel, East London is a mixed-use library, community and youth centre built for the Tower Hamlets Council in London between 2001–05. The building features a striking pattern of green, blue and clear glass panels that make up the exterior walls. The colours chosen reference the awnings of the market stalls the Library overlooks in its location in a bustling multi-cultural area of East London. The pattern of the glass panels also references traditional African textiles in the form of Ghanaian kente cloth. Adjaye invokes the distinctive stitching of the Kente cloth, using the cloth as a metaphor for making a building, and bringing together a diverse community with all its unique aspects.

Rivington Place Building Architect Sir David Adjaye
Sowei Mask Fine Art Museums of San Francisco

[Image credits: top, Rivington Place – Autograph ABP;
bottom, Sowei Mask – Fine Art Museums of San Francisco]

Opened in October 2007 Rivington Place is a purpose-built international gallery and visual arts centre in East London. The five-storey building became the first publicly funded art gallery built in London since the opening of the Hayward gallery over 40 years ago. Traditional African art in the form of a Sowei Mask from Sierra Leone inspired the Rivington Place architectural design. Patterns on the mask translated into the striking lattice pattern that makes up the building’s facade. Made up of 8 rows of windows that diminish in height as the building rises Rivington Place gives the optical illusion of being taller than it actually is. The building also features black concrete panels in a chequerboard pattern feature externally, and rows of south-facing saw-tooth roof lights.

Alara Lagos Concept Store design Sir David Adjaye

[Image credit: Alara – Adjaye Associates]

Alara is a luxury lifestyle concept store in Lagos, Nigeria that stocks leading African and international brands. Commissioned by founder, Reni Folawiyo Alara is part retail store, part gallery, and part showroom arranged over three 3 stories. Alara is intended as a celebration of African design in architecture and culture; opening the dialogue into the contemporary African experience, culture, and identity. The architectural design is inspired by elements of diverse African design and traditional African art influences modernised to give the building a sense of place in a fast-changing landscape. This is carried out mainly through the use of repetitive patterns that can be seen throughout the exterior and interior space.

The National Museum of African American History and Culture Architect David Adjaye
Veranda posts Yoruba artist Olowe of Ise

[Image credits: top, The National Museum of African American History and Culture – Douglas Remley (Smithsonian);
bottom, Veranda posts by Yoruba artist Olowe of Ise – Rand African Art]

The National Museum of African American History and Culture is a Smithsonian Institution and a prestigious landmark building of great cultural significance that was almost a century in the making. Located in Washington, DC alongside the City’s row of national monuments The National Museum of African American History and Culture charts the history of African Americans in the United States from its darkest period of slavery to present day with an African-American president in the White House, and looking beyond to incorporating future experiences as they occur. Adjaye was the lead designer on the project, which brought together four architectural practices. Adjaye’s design for the building was inspired by a carved wooden sculpture of a pillar featuring a figure with a crown like structure at the top by the early-20th-century Yoruban artist Olowe of Ise. Adjaye had seen similar forms of the pillar style carving in fragments on doors and posts and pillars in Benin. But the connection to the Yoruba, one of the largest ethnic groups in Nigeria, was more meaningful given the identified origin and heritage of some slaves. The building’s distinctive design is characterised by three sloping tiers that elevate upwards and out into a fan shape to form the Yoruba crown. Covering the exterior are 3,600 intricately detailed bronze coated aluminium mesh panels. Each panel weaves the history of African American slaves, the metal cladding and detailing a reference to the decorative ironwork found on houses in places such as  Charleston and New Orleans that were made by freed slave craftsmen. The National Museum of African American History and Culture was opened by US President Barack Obama on September 24th 2016.

– Tapiwa

[Image credits: The images from the top are sourced from National Museum of African American History and Culture; BdonlineCulturally Situated Design Tools; Autograph ABPFine Art Museums of San Francisco; Adjaye Associates; National Museum of African American History and Culture; and Rand African Art. If downloaded and used elsewhere as a matter of courtesy please credit accordingly]

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