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David Adjaye: Making Public Buildings

At the Whitechapel Gallery, London E1, until 26 March

'He's architecture's Jamie Oliver, ' burbled the Whitechapel's PR man.

David Adjaye is the first living architect to have a show there - given the awards and publicity granted his Royal College of Art artist contemporaries like Chris Ofili, why not do the same for the architect of the class?

Adjaye came to prominence designing their exhibitions and their houses: Architectural Record called him 'Britain's architect to the stars'. But this exhibition concentrates on the public buildings Adjaye has recently completed and the much bigger commissions he has picked up over the last three years.

The great thing about this show is that it is in Tower Hamlets, close to Adjaye's Elektra and Dirty Houses and the two Idea Stores - libraries and study centres commissioned in 2000. A 'timeline' of his work since 1994 shows just how many of his projects are nearby.

I also wondered if you could eat your way round Adjaye in London, beginning with his Soba Noodle Bar in 1996.

From the outset he has played with the effect of light on muscular materials used in odd juxtapositions - perhaps a reflection of his myriad cultural references - but he is now also using space more meaningfully. The show emphasises this by preferring videos to photographs, the latter largely confined to Adjaye's holiday snaps of Africa, China and India.

The show focuses on 10 projects, illustrated by plans and models. These are the completed Idea Stores in Poplar and Whitechapel, together with housing under construction in Bow. Then there is an of'ce in Shoreditch, and the Bernie Grant and Stephen Lawrence Centres, in Tottenham and Deptford respectively, again buildings primarily for education. Three more distant buildings are galleries: a temporary building for the Venice Biennale, the remodelling of a rail terminal in Oslo as the Nobel Peace Centre, and a small but freestanding modern art gallery in Denver, commissioned in 2002.

The one truly massive building, currently on hold, is a market hall in Wakefield - very different from the art milieu of the East End.

Each piece has set next to it a small African crafts object, underlining the sense of making that infuses Adjaye's work, however tight the budget.

There are also videos of the four completed buildings, though given Adjaye's recent emphasis on moving through space it is curious to 'nd that they are largely shot using a static camera.

The exhibition serves as an overview, fleshed out by a book, David Adjaye: Making Public Buildings (Thames & Hudson, £29.95). Yet, gentle and reflective though the show is, it is more informative to head down the road to see the Whitechapel Idea Store for real.

The exhibition does not begin to show how good this building is, with its outdoor escalators, heady mix of glass and timber, double helix stairs and thrill of activity.

Elain Harwood is a historian with English Heritage

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