Adjaye's World Grows Wider

and So Does the Speculation

David Adjaye and the Competition for the Contract to Design the Barack Obama Presidential Center

In reporting on Thelma Golden’s appointment to the board of the Barack Obama Foundation, the IRAAA+ traced connections between Golden, the Obamas and architect David Adjaye which reinforce speculation in the media that Adjaye is moving closer to being selected as architect for the Barack Obama Presidential Center, a $500 million-plus complex to be constructed in a park on Chicago’s South Side.

That speculation continued to mount after Foundation officials, on August 26, issued invited a group of architectural firms in the U.S. and overseas to submit their qualifications for the commission. Extending the request to overseas firms is unprecedented. Only architects who are U.S. citizens have designed the 17 existing Presidential Centers (commonly known by their original function as “presidential libraries”). David Adjaye was born in Tanzania to Ghanian parents and is based in London.     

The qualifications request to architects includes this photo of Michelle Obama's White House garden Extending far beyond spaces to archive and display executive office records, the plans for the Barack Obama Presidential Center reflect the Barack and Michelle Obama’s varied interests including diet and health. There will be community gardens on the grounds and “healthy dining” in the cafe.  There will be a venue for sports as well as for various forms of civic engagement and the arts.  The Center’s museum exhibition will not only document major developments in the Obama administration but also the big issues of these times.

While the firms contacted directly by the Foundation will have that advantage in the competition, other firms may also submit their qualifications and the request is posted on the Foundation site. From the pool of qualifiers, Barack and Michelle Obama will personally select the firms who will be requested to submit proposals.      

Extending the request to overseas companies however does not necessarily indicate that David Adjaye is a pre-ordained front runner in the competition. It also could reflect the progressive view that strictly bounded concepts of nation are becoming outmoded in an age in which cultural, economical,  environmental and many other concerns are globally interconnected.

Reason to Crow

This headline from a news release issued by the Art Institute of Chicago on August 27, 2015 demonstrates how a cultural event becomes a media event based on Adjaye’s celebrity: "ANTICIPATION BUILDS FOR THE EXCITING SEPTEMBER 18 OPENING CELEBRATION OF THE ART INSTITUTE'S MAKING PLACE: THE ARCHITECTURE OF DAVID ADJAYE"

David Adjaye. Photo from Art Institute of Chicago news releaseIn a timely confluence, as anticipation about the designer of the Obama Presidential Center grows stronger, so does the drum beat heralding this news from another august Chicago institution. Publicized as a posh social occasion as well as an art occasion, the opening includes an “exclusive” event on Friday, September 18, that benefits the museum’s Leadership Advisory Committee.

“Join David Adjaye, cultural and civic leaders, and other renowned contemporary artists from around the world for an extraordinary evening of art and design,” the announcement proudly states. “Opening Celebration guests will enjoy an elegant dinner in the Modern Wing’s stunning Griffin Court followed by an unforgettable, nonstop party driven well into the night by the world-famous DJ Kiss.”

Art Institute of Chicago“VIP” level admission at $1,000 includes reception, preferred seating and exhibition catalogue). General Admission is $350.  Valet is parking available.

The exhibition was organized by Haus der Kunst, Munich (which is directed by Adjaye’s friend Okwui Enwezor), and the Art Institute of Chicago.   

The Art Institute of Chicago has a long and impressive history of supporting black artists so, for the Adjaye event, one might say, it has a "right to crow.”

Both Sides Now

Two David Adjaye developments represent Africa’s most affluent and most needy populations.

Alara Concept Store. (ALARALagos)He designed Alara, a store offering expensive fashion, art and design from around the world. The store opened in spring 2015 in Lagos, Nigeria.   

Alara Concept Store. (ALARALagos)Alara was conceived and is directed by Reni Folawiyo, the worldly spouse of a wealthy Nigerian business magnate Tunde Folawiyo and a savvy entrepreneur in her own right. She's interested in promoting African designs among the luxurious mix. 

In Kampala, Uganda, construction began in February 2015 for 1,000 houses for former residents of the dilapidated communities of Naguru and Nakawa. The first 188 units are expected to be ready by end of the year.

Adjaye rendering for Kampala development (Urbila)The resident units are a part of a David Adjaye-designed project that will be Africa’s largest planned urban redevelopment.  In her “David Adjaye, Conceptual Visionary” article (IRAAA, Winter 2015), art historian Sharon Patton says that the ambitious project (completion expected, 2020) highlights Adjaye’s vision of ideal architecture.  “Specific details are not public, but the conceptual rendering shows a cluster of buildings shaped like ice cream cones within 160 acres of urban space. It’s an utopia of civic buildings and public space: architecture in the service of community — schools, churches, shopping-malls, 3500 residential units, restaurants and evidently a closer spatial and hopefully edifying relationship between civic government and the populace.”

To Set the Record Straight

Elektra House, facade and side entrance, Whitechapel, East London, 2000 (Adjaye Associates)Elektra House, full viewIn the “David Adjaye, Conceptual Visionary” article (cited above), Sharon Patton noted how some architectural critics have viewed Adjaye’s designs for residential homes as unfriendly because of their stark, minimal, darkly-colored aspects and some have described the facade of his Elektra House in negative terms such as “hostile.”

To illustrate the Elektra House, a view of the cheerfully illuminated, high-windowed rear of the house was inadvertently shown, not the controversial facade.

The facade is now shown here with our deepest apologies to Sharon Patton who contributed a very perceptive discussion on the architect — one which advances the scholarship on him. About the Elektra House facade, Patton wrote: "Panels give appearance of single-storey structure. Subtle eElektra House, rear viewmbellishment of facade, in this example, a grid created by panel seams, is a signature for Adjaye's houses. Unlike traditional houses, the entrance in unadorned and off-side to the right."

— J.H.

Here's more about the “On Architecture” issue of IRAAA.  

Related IRAAA article: Adjaye Gets Studio Museum Contract