David Adjaye - Works 1995-2007
Adjaye Associates, edited by Peter Allison
Thames & Hudson, November 2020
Hardcover | 10-1/2 x 10-1/2 inches | 300 pages | 800 illustrations | English | ISBN: 978-0500343517 | $90.00
Acclaimed architect David Adjaye is known for his artistic sensitivity and deft use of space and inexpensive, unexpected materials. With the hindsight of almost twenty years of practice and a raft of high-profile projects around the world— perhaps best symbolized by the National Museum for African American History and Culture in Washington, DC—this book looks back on the houses and buildings of his early career.
Adjaye’s early commissions were the test sites for what would become his unique, celebrated, and highly sought-after brand of “critical regionalism.” From London to Brooklyn, in private houses and public buildings, his clever urban interventions abound: roof-level living space is added to a factory-turned-studio, a sunken courtyard encases a tower-like house, and basalt stone extends a basement dining area to a roofless gazebo.
David Adjaye—Works brings together all of these early projects and more and presents them with new analyses and recently uncovered archival material, testifying to the originality of an architect at the height of his talents who is changing the face of our built world.
David Adjaye has offices in London, New York, and Berlin, and his public buildings have brought him international critical acclaim. His previous books are David Adjaye: Houses and David Adjaye: Making Public Buildings. Peter Allison is a London-based exhibition curator and teacher.
David Adjaye established Adjaye Associates in the year 2000, meaning the firm with offices in London, New York, and Accra is now twenty years old. Instead of releasing a monograph that documents the entirety of the firm's output over that time, Works 1995-2007 is the equivalent of an origin story, covering projects completed a few years before before the establishment of his eponymous firm and the subsequent early commissions that Adjaye describes as "the formation of the thinking that underpins my current work." The early projects are also presented as "part of an enquiry into the social role of architecture" that Adjaye is "still busy completing."
The book was done with longtime collaborator Peter Allison, whose other books with Adjaye include the impressive Adjaye Africa Architecture. For Works 1995-2007, the focus is clearly on the houses and buildings completed over the course of Adjaye's first decade of practice, as well as some of the pavilions and installations the architect describes as "experimental projects" that allowed "investigations into materiality, how to make enclosures, and the framing and appropriate gaze for external expression." Accordingly, the texts are minimal, with the above quotes pulled from Adjaye's one-page foreword; following it is an essay by MAXXI's Pippo Ciorra, with six pages of text. For the bulk of the book, the project descriptions tend toward brevity, with just a few sentences each, though important projects, such as the Idea Stores and Rivington Place, are described at length, with a few paragraphs each.
From the embossed linen cover, which appears to be the Chris Ofili window at the Stephen Lawrence Centre, to the photographs and drawings included for each project, the presentation is consistently good. It is an uncluttered presentation that emphasizes the qualities of space and materials that are a hallmark of Adjaye's designs, be they one of the 35 built works in this book or any of the projects completed since the book's end date of 2007. I'm not exactly sure why that year was selected as the cutoff for this book — it ends with Horizon, a timber pavilion completed in London in 2007 that was rebuilt for a 2015 retrospective exhibition at the Art Institute of Chicago — but it does lead into the Great Recession, when commissions dried up for most architecture firms, and too many more projects would have made the book unwieldy.
Before opening it, I couldn't help wonder if Works 1995-2007 was planned as the first of a series of complete works, in the vein of Renzo Piano Building Workshop's now-five-volume series done with Peter Buchanan. Adjaye is certainly a candidate for such a treatment, but given that the book focuses on completed projects and has only 35 of them completed over 12 years (a list of 78 works with one image each is included in the back matter), it is hardly complete. Although we can't expect a 2008-2020 volume anytime in the future, readers interested in Adjaye's beginnings will be very happy with this book. I was not familiar with most of the projects, and I found myself gravitating to the renovations and additions for London residences; the creativity of the SJW House, to name just one (also, it should be noted this is one of many projects in the book that is not on Adjaye's website), is impressive. That Adjaye still builds similar residential commissions to this day signals that a return to his formative years is not limited to books.