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He is the kind of architect, perhaps uniquely in modern times, whose profile brings out the likes of Bono and former South African president Thabo Mbeki, for better or worse, to sing their praises at the virtual medal ceremony. The latter’s policies of denial on AIDS had been somewhat at odds with Adjaye’s laudable campaigns with Bono to increase use of retroviral drugs in Africa. This makes Mbeki’s praising the architect now he’s been anointed somewhat confusing, until you realise Adjaye’s at the helm of the former president’s new library project.

The AIDS campaign makes it easier to forgive Bono quoting his own lyrics to attempt to celebrate Adjaye, and making momentous-sounding pronouncements like he has “created spaces unlike any the world has ever seen.” The veracity of such a claim may unfortunately be decided by the Twittersphere, rather than the experts.

It’s sadly no surprise that the charismatic 54 year-old is the first black architect to win the RIBA prize, in what remains a fundamentally ethnically unbalanced profession, at the top level at least. The loss of Zaha Hadid was all the more painful given that her Iraqi heritage increased diversity for a while at the top flight of UK architecture. Graduating from London South Bank University in 1990, Adjaye decided to found his own practice in 2000 because of the lack of equality he discovered, and perceived as a barrier to success.

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It’s not all been plain sailing for Adjaye, despite his meteoric rise. One of his relatively few major UK projects, the scheme to create a Holocaust Memorial in a small park next to the Houses of Parliament, has been slammed by critics. A similarly highly-charged scheme to the Smithsonian Museum, both in terms of content and siting, it was attacked for potentially overwhelming the space, but also for not being big enough to do justice to the subject. Such are the problems of trying to place something so important in a dense built environment to achieve maximum impact; in the ongoing inquiry, the brief has been the target of most of the criticism, not Adjaye.

There will always be contending views around such politically fraught schemes, but what’s clear is that a British- Ghanian architect, unflinchingly bringing strong, cultural messages into high-profile projects worldwide to wide acclaim, is something to be proud of.


James Parker Editor


A new outlook for the commercial sector in a key ‘levelling up’ city, thanks to Feilden Clegg Bradley’s lightweight and lean speculative office scheme

WERK12, MUNICH MVRDV’s award-winning mixed-use scheme makes a statement

ON THE COVER... Designed by MVRDV, WERK12 is a mixed-use office, culture and entertainment complex in Munich that playfully incorporates references to comic books in statement 5 metre letters across its facade. Cover image © Ossip van Duivenbode For the full report on this project, go to page 24


t’s great news that global architectural star Sir David Adjaye has finally been presented with the RIBA’s Gold Medal for Architecture for 2021, following the confirmation of the accolade last autumn. This cements his place as the ‘man of the moment,’ having been the designer of probably the most important building – in terms of its cultural resonance – yet completed this century, the Smithsonian Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington DC.


The building, as has been widely reported, tackles the legacy of slavery but also ongoing racism in the US, as well as progress, head on. Offering free entry to maximise participation, it was completed at the very end of Obama’s tenure, but was seeing floods of visitors coming to the nation’s capital as Trump’s divisive reign began. Sited not far from the White House, the Capitol Building and various other white marble civic structures, the museum’s striking dark, bronze latticed form has an obvious allegorical power. You’d like to think it was a cautionary, perhaps chastening sight for Trump, but perhaps it’s more likely to be one for subsequent US leaders. It now sits as a pivotal piece of architecture, in the context of George Floyd’s murder and the Black Lives Matter movement.



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