November 8, 2012

In October, Miguel Angel Baltierra, Assoc. AIA, LEED AP, interviewed David Adjaye, OBE, principal of London-based Adjaye Associates about his new book African Metropolitan Architecture (Rizzoli). It is a very large and rich catalogue of his exhibition “Urban Africa: David Adjaye’s Photographic Survey.”

The first of seven volumes presents essays by several scholars sharing their observations on the evolving urban experience in Africa. The remaining six volumes examine a decade of Adjaye’s documentation of 53 urban centers in six distinct geographic zones.

Adjaye has projects underway in North America, Europe, and Africa. The beauty and ingenuity of his design work is expressed with very exciting commissions, including the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of African American Culture and History, the Moscow School of Management, and the Nobel Peace Centre in Oslo, among others. He is also working on projects in Ghana, Nigeria, and Gabon.

This is an excerpt from an interview with Adjaye; the entire interview can be heard on the Center for Architecture’s SoundCloud page. Enjoy!

Miguel Baltierra: As an adolescent, you saw a recently independent Africa while traveling with your parents. As an adult, what were the greatest surprises or concerns that you came upon during your personal journey, begun in 1999, that we can come to appreciate in African Metropolitan Architecture?

David Adjaye: What was interesting for me, growing up as a young boy on the continent was at a time when there was a transition from the colonial legacy being finished and the new nation identities being birthed. It was an incredible period of new nation-building.

There was an extraordinary energy on the continent. There was a lot of inward investment, there was a lot of re-planning of cities and new architecture. Modernism was being used as the tool to express the new identify of these new nation-states. Very much in the way we look at the explosion happening inside China. Although China is much, much, more [developed] … it was seen in that way: this new birthing country. And I was born in that soup. In a way I was energized by that.

What happened 30 years later, going back to the continent, in a more systemized way and observing what has happened in those post independence days, is that in some countries there has been a sense of loss of that excitement of nation-building because they have been gripped by financial issues, social issues, difficulties having to do with governance and political issues. So some of that has dampened some of the energy that was incredibly [evident] on the continent at that time.

There are other [African] countries where there is a renewed enthusiasm for that time and [are trying] to latch on to that energy, that dynamism, and try to understand how the continent can now grow. These are countries whose economies are doing well, and they are becoming growth engines in central, west, and parts of south Africa, as well as parts of east Africa that have become the new growth areas.

MB: This is your second book published by Rizzoli. Can you share the process you went through to develop the relationship, and how you worked with them to curate the final product?

DA: Thames and Hudson was really the prime publisher. They were in from day one. During the process I started working on another book with Rizzoli. They saw that I was studying this Africa project in the studio. They indicated they would be very keen to be the American publishers and they came on board. The team at Rizzoli was very interested to see something that would talk about the contemporary condition in Africa, so it was pretty easy. It was more of a realization of common goals: really wanting to see something contemporary about Africa to put into the public realm. It was a natural fit.

Listen to the entire interview here.


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