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David Adjaye: Architecture in the West is ‘absurdly expensive’

David adjaye (c)ed reeve

David Adjaye has said that architecture in the West has become ‘absurdly expensive’ in a keynote speech at the 2018 World Architecture Festival (WAF) in Amsterdam

Addressing a packed crowd in the city’s RAI convention centre yesterday evening (29 November), the award-winning founder of Adjaye Associates spoke about his work, concerns about the industry and how architecture can be ‘involved in the activism of society’.

‘If you look at the Modernist project, it’s all about money now and architecture in the West is absurdly expensive,’ he said. ‘Projects now cost billions and its kind of crazy.’

Arguing for the ability of architecture to be the ‘arbiter of ideas’, Adjaye said he was interested in projects that went beyond ‘just the material excellence of construction’.

He continued: ‘Because if that’s all we’re making, I’m very worried about a world of similarities, of kind of confluencing expertise and the kind of elitism which is to do with hyper-commercial liberalism and who controls money.’

Tackling the festival’s theme of ‘identity’, he said he preferred exploring the idea of ‘narrative’ in his work, adding: ‘For me, identity is not interesting when it’s about reinforcing obvious narratives.

‘If you’re talking about this notion of identity, I think it’s interesting if architecture is able to become a form that is able to push a certain sort of justice into the equation.

‘It’s an opportunity where architecture can move past just being the sum of just building parts but also a critique about questioning of motives and agendas.’

He added: ‘Architects are responsible, as they work for a client, but they also work for an idea of the city, they are always indebted to make sure the city is giving the best back to its constituents.’

Adjaye smithsonian design museum winner

Adjaye smithsonian design museum winner

Discussing the idea of narrative in projects such as his Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington DC (pictured above), Adjaye said: ‘I’m very interested in the forgotten stories, I’m interested in the notion of ruse and how people somehow forget history.

He added: ‘I’m interested in the notion of using architecture to lift that uncomfortable or comfortable conversation.’

‘We need to find a meaning for a building beyond just building because otherwise contractors can just do it all.’

In his presentation, Adjaye also discussed his other international projects such as the pavilion for Gwangju Pavilion in South Korea, the Moscow School of Management and the National Cathedral of Ghana in Accra. 


Readers' comments (2)

  • i didn't realise Adjaye Accociates was such a radical, socially conscious practice

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  • It is interesting (ironic) to hear these comments from an architect who has worked on several high profile public projects, with astronomical contract values... Not mentioning his recent proposal for a holocaust memorial which could only be described as architectural and material indulgence with little regard for the historical context it finds itself in.

    The comment about contractors being able to 'do it all' is an interesting one, and demonstrates how out of touch he has become designing his billion pound monuments. In the real world we have to work to strict budgets, often what is lost is quality of material and form. However this does not mean that good architecture cannot come out of such work. To suggest that a contractor could simply do this kind of work is absurd and goes entirely against what the architects role is--within the UK in particular when it comes to protecting the client, end user and built environments interests.

    In the position he is in it is admirable (ironic) that he discusses social inequalities etc.

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