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People > Big interview The National Cathedral of Ghana in Accra, Ghana.


a site of affirmation, it's kind of a demonstration of precisely why architecture matters.”


Rebuild to reclaim As his work has grown in stature, Adjaye’s focus has shifted back to Africa. In 2018 he revealed designs for The National Cathedral of Ghana, which will host a 5,000-seat auditorium beneath a concave roof constructed beside the city's Osu Cemetery, set within 5.5 hectares of landscaped gardens. The architect describes the project as a “study on identity and nation building” in a country where church and state are not separate entities but mutually entangled, integrated into the fabric of cultural life. It’s a theme Adjaye is also exploring in his Abrahamic Family House in Abu Dhabi which takes the form of three cubic temples designed to promote peaceful dialogue between the three Abrahamic faiths. More recently, Adjaye’s focus has shifted to the Edo Museum of West African Art (EMOWAA), based in Benin City, which aims to house repatriated objects currently on


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display in European museums. If the Smithsonian was a battle cry against one-dimensional colonial narratives, the Edo Museum is about enabling self-realisation, after what Adjaye terms a lasting process of “erasure”. “We propose that this museum is the beginning,” Adjaye explains. “That it is a required reclaiming of the architectural heritage of these extraordinary civilisations as the backdrop of these communities and not as a fiction in some virtual space or imagination.”


Societal memory continues to be a source of fascination in his work. Both the narratives that are perpetuated by the retelling of collective stories and the blind spots that can emerge as a result. It’s a passion that has grown more vociferous as fake news has created a world where facts are no longer concrete, but fluid, open to interpretation or simply there to be derided or ignored. Located in Westminster, a stone’s throw from the Houses of Parliament, Adjaye’s UK Holocaust Memorial and Learning Centre is a collaboration with Ron Arad Architects and Gustafson


Porter & Bowman, and a testament to the architect’s belief that architecture can combat lies. More specifically, it has been calibrated to challenge a perception among 5% of UK adults that the Holocaust did not happen. Built on a mound of earth in Victoria


Tower Gardens, London, the entrance comprises 23 bronze fins with the gaps between them representing the 22 countries where the Holocaust destroyed Jewish communities. The fins then act as gateways, leading visitors to a learning centre built to use the facts of the Holocaust to explore anti-Semitism, extremism, Islamophobia, racism, homophobia. It has not been without controversy. Guardian critic Rowan Moore described it as suffering from a “flawed brief”. David Aaronovich of the Times found it cold. Others have criticised its location on a much-loved public space, some even its close proximity to the heart of government.


Challenging perceptions Such criticism has not deterred Adjaye one iota. He continues to be vocal about the powerful role


memorials serve in public and cultural life, arguing that they need to be rethought for contemporary times. In an increasingly polarised world where history is being contested like never before, well- meaning blocks of stone are not enough. Instead, the architect advises “against just repeating the past, just because we know what it looks like”. His memorials, he says, are deliberately focused on “how the body moves” within these spaces. Sometimes, of course, learning from the past means tearing down statues to once venerated figures. On the subject of whether or not the statue of British imperialist Cecil Rhodes should be removed from Oriel College, Oxford, Adjaye is unequivocal. “I think what he did was to the benefit of Britain, but to the detriment of a whole race and civilisation. I think it's deeply problematic,” he says. “Put him in a museum, put him in a cupboard, but don't celebrate him.”


Our conversation concludes with a discussion of the impact the global pandemic has had on architecture. Somewhat quintessentially for an architect committed to questioning and reinterpreting the past, Adjaye believes that the Covid-19 crisis will reshape the industry for the better. “It's allowed architects to see that we can't build blindly. That the climate agenda is so phenomenally important. We've seen how the earth resuscitates when we all stop our nonsense,” he says. “I just think that the whole world has shifted. And so we have to make the world again. I mean, that's the kind of wasteful and beautiful part of architecture. We think we've done it, and then we have to redo it. Actually, it's the most inspiring thing.”


LEAF REVIEW / www.leading-architects.com


Adjaye Associates


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