Mr. Adjaye, This is Your Life

Bear with me here, for I will try to do my best rendition of Ralph Edwards. But first, a little context:

For a designer, one of the greatest honors is to have produced a body of work throughout one’s career that is worthy of being displayed and discussed. For some, it may take a lifetime to produce enough to reflect on, or better yet to design that “one” thing that will echo throughout time. So when a designer fits the criteria for a retrospective collection – while they are still designing – it is something to be proud of and respected.

It might also be an eerie occurrence for the honoree when, arguably, you are just getting into your prime. “Waiiiiiiiit!, I’m not done yet! I’m kinda just getting started!”

I said no!

According to The Art Institute of Chicago, architect David Adjaye fits the bill. Their exhibit, Making Place: The Architecture of David Adjaye, which was first displayed in Munich’s Haus der Kunst, is proof of this. This exhibition is open until Jan. 3, 2016 and is located on 2 floors and in multiple gallery rooms (182-184, 283-285). And rightfully so! We are talking about a lifetime of work here. It had better be more than just a wall, in a section, in a room, in a gallery, in a hallway, in a wing, of a museum.

I could simply report that “the exhibition displays Adjaye’s works in various design mediums/disciplines which spans over 20 years of designing” in my tour-guide-30-minutes-before-closing voice, but curators Zoe Ryan and Okwui Enwezor worked too intricately for that mundane summary to be applicable. Plus, this is W+A.

So now, I say goodbye to you as Finn and continue this report as the spirit of Ralph Edwards:

David Adjaye, This Is Your Life! Up til now at least!


As with any architect or designer, when Mr. Adjaye first started, his projects were explorations on how to manifest the ideals he was attempting to address, in design scenarios which were manageable. Whether through scale, use, location, or aesthetic, the initial beginnings of a designer’s work shows glimpses of what he/she will become.

David, this is the First Floooooooor!

What we have here are rooms dedicated to the familiar monotone models of architectural design. A lot of models. Each from his early stages where his designs were predominately residential and in locations Mr. Adjaye might have been familiar with, such as Ghana (home to his father) and England (his “home” out of many to choose from).

What’s special is the execution of the curators who (I suspect) chose to have the first area of the exhibit become the literal display of Adjaye’s beginnings. Here you find conceptual sketches organized on the exterior of the gallery, which lead to an all-white model room that looks like Night at the Museum: Labor Day in the Hamptons.


More specifically, the detailed, but bare, models signify that though these are intriguing completed projects, there is still a more to come; more to experience.



As you move through the 1st level of the exhibit, you can tell that you are growing with the designer. Growing with the exhibit. At this point, you know Mr. Adjaye is about to blow up.

David Adjaye, this is the Second Floooooooor!

Models and drawings are back, but in a much richer way. Detail of material, texture, color, process are all a part of the exhibit now where this stage shows Mr. Adjaye is meticulous and confident in executing his voice through his work. Larger projects in different locales, with cultural significance now are on display. Mr. Adjaye now has flexed his muscles and has added industrial design creations to his repertoire which show up in actual detail and scale in the exhibit. Among these works, is the development and evidence of the social and cultural impact Adjaye’s work has now been known to have. His current work on the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture serves as the centerpiece of the exhibit. The centerpiece, that is, until you move to the final room.


David, this is the Finale!

A full scale instillation of Adjaye’s Horizon pavilion can be found in the final room. This is perfectly fitting, seeing as we move from stages of his career, parallel to stages of his design maturation, parallel to the actual exhibit circulation. It is only appropriate that we get to experience one of his built environments. Great job. Very good career sir.


But wait, Mr. Adjaye is JUST really entering the Golden Age (keep an eye out for the gold theme throughout the exhibit) of his design life in AT (architectural time). He even admitted during the “Panel Discussion: The Art of Architecture – David Adjaye‘s Collaborations with Artists”, which accompanied the debut of the exhibit, that it was weird to see his “life’s work” on display while he still was working on what his life’s work would even be. But it is always nice to give someone the roses while they are living, especially when they may turn those roses into something dynamic and transcendent.

So be sure to visit the exhibit in the Modern Wing of the Art Institute of Chicago, where David Adjaye has exemplified the Holstee Manifesto: “This is your life. Do what you love and do it often…Life is about the people you meet and the things you create with them. So go out and start creating.

– Finn

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