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Q&A: Architect David Adjaye On His Vision for the New Museum

The designer of the National Museum of African American History and Culture talks about his vision for the new building

Growing up in multiple countries has allowed architect David Adjaye to always be highly sensitive to the cultural framework of different peoples in his designs. (Alexander Tamargo / Getty Images for Design Miami)
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You’ve also worked on a number of small-scale community projects, such as libraries in lower-income communities. How do you feel architecture can act as a force for social change?
My practice absolutely believes that architecture is the physical act of social change, and the manifestation of it. I believe in architecture as a social force that actually makes good. And one that edifies communities.

To be socially edifying, and socially liberating, it’s an emancipatory form. And in that, having a politic which is to do with bringing people up, the politics of progression, of the progression of people. That is really the core of my work. When it doesn’t have that, I don’t really do it, or I’m just not interested, I don’t feel it’s what architecture should be about. That’s why my work is predominantly in the cultural, education and civic sector.

Do you have any thoughts on the future of architecture?
Cities are growing faster than ever. I think that how we interact with each other, how we tolerate each other, and how architecture mediates these sort of things, will become more important than just, how well you can build structures and what sorts of techniques and tools you have at your disposal.

At the end of your career, what artifact of your own would you want to see in a museum?
I would hope that some parts of the discourse that I have been involved in is relevant to the world that is the future. I hope that there are fragments of this conversation, which I think is really important. But who knows? Sometimes you think what you’re doing is really important, and history sort of flat lines it. It’s a flat wave, you know? The big build up becomes a flat wave on the beach, and it’s not really relevant. I hope that it has relevance, and it becomes something which contributes specifically to the discourse of architecture and space and human beings.


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