Unsupported browser

For a better experience please update your browser to its latest version.

Your browser appears to have cookies disabled. For the best experience of this website, please enable cookies in your browser

We'll assume we have your consent to use cookies, for example so you won't need to log in each time you visit our site.
Learn more


  • Comment

David Adjaye: Houses Edited by Peter Allison.

Thames & Hudson, 2005.

256pp. £29.95

Being a good architect and being a good designer are not quite the same thing, and increasingly one needs the professional savvy that the former implies to exercise the talents of the latter. This is especially the case in the UK, without a vibrant competitions system to help young architects and with a procurement system that has literally abandoned the notion of civic architecture.

David Adjaye is an architect based in London, which brings with it the additional difficulty of gaining opportunities beyond interiors and domestic architecture, but also the potentially powerful advantage of being able to use the symbiotic relationship between architecture and the media, as well as the possibility of working for wealthy and sophisticated clients.

From such complicated circumstances has grown Adjaye's offi ce. Although not yet 40, he has an impressive catalogue of built work, a good-sized practice and has moved into the international realm by winning competitions for the Nobel Peace Centre in Oslo and the Museum of Contemporary Art in Denver, currently under construction.

This book concentrates on his domestic work, with 11 houses and studios, plus one pottery shed and a concrete garden.

One senses that it is meant to document a first phase of his career.

Adjaye has a remarkable list of famous artists as clients, but the learning centres for deprived areas of east London (Idea Stores) - although only included in the portfolio at the back of the book - show that his ambitious and accessible work can be harnessed to less glamorous programmes. They also boldly reveal the meanness of much architecture of good intentions. He claims 'an artist's sensibility', by which he seems to mean art's ready engagement with contemporary culture, theory and means. It might also mean an ease with the public persona of the artist, and Adjaye is not only well published but has been a radio and television presenter.

Spier's book is nicely designed and beautifully produced - the chapters on Adjaye's built work including good-quality photographs and sketches. But, as if to underline that this work is about space and substance, not just surface, there are, unusually, a full set of plans, sections and elevations, and at a size large enough to read. Even more remarkably, there are often details.

The built-work chapters are interspersed with essays by four authors. Deyan Sudjic effortlessly situates the work in booming London's recent social and economic context and points out that Adjaye has been remarkably mature, rejecting the temptation to cram too many ideas into what are small projects, confident that he would continue to build.

Peter Allison discusses the work in terms of form, space and enclosure, and the influence of the eight months Adjaye spent in Japan as a student.

And the book inexplicably opens with Stuart Hall's clichés.

There are also three 'portfolios' that concentrate on issues of light and colour; furniture design; and a chronology of built projects, starting with Adjaye's 1995 set design for The Pretenders.

Adjaye is a phenomenon.

If there are some mutterings about his success, then this book is a welcome opportunity to get beyond his career and take a closer look at the architecture.

It is both serious and seductive, stylish and stylistically varied, and is asking many of the right questions. As Sudjic writes in his perceptive essay, Adjaye's architecture 'demonstrates his deft ability to have his cake and eat it'. And that ability makes him a very good architect as well as designer.

Steven Spier is a professor at the University of Strathclyde. See pages 46-49 for David Adjaye in the AJ/Corus 40 Under 40 Forget about the buildings for a moment, and the paintings and sculptures - most people would feel their life had been full if they'd created 35 books, which is what Le Corbusier did.

And creating is the word - not just writing and polemicising, but treating books as thoroughly designed objects.

For a long time more radical in his use of images than his typography or layouts, Le Corbusier gradually reached a bolder synthesis of all these elements in the 1950s, with his own artwork playing a significant part. This catalogue, accompanying an exhibition in France and Italy (but not the UK), reproduces many original covers and spreads; pictured is the jacket of Corb's last book, L'atelier de la recherche patiente, published in 1960.

  • Comment

Have your say

You must sign in to make a comment

Please remember that the submission of any material is governed by our Terms and Conditions and by submitting material you confirm your agreement to these Terms and Conditions.

Links may be included in your comments but HTML is not permitted.

Related Jobs

AJ Jobs