Freelon Adjaye Bond/SmithGroup concepts for the National Museum of African-American History in Washington, D.C. The bronze, layered corona atop a stone base, according to David Adjaye, would be the defining element of the structure, which could be the last major building added to the expanse between the U.S. Capitol and Washington Monument.... The crown concept, which would allow natural light to flow into the structure through bronze screens, was inspired by images from African and American history, Adjaye said, "this idea of uplifted praise sort of imagery." It evokes traditional headdresses worn by African-American women [he might be referring to this], as well as the colonial crown from Africa and the idea "that a hat-wearing person is a free person...who doesn't have to carry a load but could wear a hat."
In Sunday's WaPo, Philip Kennicott feels his way around the contours of the mind of 43-year-old Ghanaian/Tanzanian architect David Adjaye, who has been commissioned to design two new libraries in the District of Columbia and the National Museum of African American History and Culture which will be located on the mall. Slide show here.
In this Q&A with New York magazine back in 2007, he answers questions about Africa and as a designer steeped in modernity how he feels about his African heritage:
You just got back from Africa. What are you working on there? I embarked about five years ago on a study, collecting an archive of photographs of every single one of the 53 capitals of the continent. Most people know about five cities in Africa. It is easy to find images of South America right through to Australia, but Africa, apart from images of poverty or war, has very little data about the lived experiences of people there now.
Are there lessons from African cities that Western architects should be more aware of? What I am interested in is how they have a very strong public life: the markets, the way people use the spaces in front of their homes, the way life is lived as networks. The house is just a unit you sleep in. Even in Muslim countries that are very extreme, it still plays out. That is something we have lost in the West.
It is interesting you’ve been so explicit about using your African heritage, since, as you said, architecture is such a white-male-dominated profession. There has been a tendency to shy away from who you are, and I don’t want to deny who I am. If a Japanese architect talks about Shintoism, everyone goes, “Wow.” If an African architect talks about an African village, it is somehow weird in the Western context. I find that hilarious. What’s the difference?
Below, he talks about his process at the Salk Institute lecture series: