Ghana’s David Adjaye releases Six of standout works to catch at his new exhibition


Ghanaian-British architect Sir David Adjaye has released six of his works in an exhibition that started this February.

From museums inaugurated by President Obama to moving Holocaust memorials, Sir David Adjaye is known for using his buildings to tell stories of the past.

A new exhibition at the Design Museum explores some of his best works and, more specifically, how they capture certain moments in history.

Making Memory, which opened on February 2, also suggests that the way these memorials are experienced is constantly changing.

It features a number of Adjaye’s projects and, while the works themselves are too large to be exhibited, each is represented through photos, video interviews and art.

To mark the new exhibition, we’ve rounded up some of Adjaye’s standout works — many of which are still in the process of being built.

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Gwangju River Reading Room

Adjaye and writer Taiye Selasi created this striking structure in memory of the students and citizens who lost their lives to South Korean armed forces, at a pro-democracy demonstration in 1980 — an event known as the Gwangju Uprising. The exact death toll is still disputed, and while government figures state it was close to 200, others estimate significantly more. Adjaye and Selasi have gone with official numbers to create a pavilion that is home to a library of 200 books — one for every life lost. Topics cover social justice and protest, and the space also acts as a reading room. Primarily made out of concrete and timber, this collaborative project sits on the banks of the Gwangju river.

The exhibition in Kensington pays homage to the memorial with its own replica reading room, featuring many of the same books selected for the Gwangju monument.

Smithsonian National Museum

Inaugurated by President Obama in 2016, the National Museum of African American History and Culture acts as a symbol for the African-American contribution to US history and identity. Located on one of the undeveloped sites on Washington’s National Mall, the three-tiered structure is covered in bronze panels, with references to the history of African-American craftsmanship. Back in London, prototypes of these panels are on display. 

UK National Holocaust Memorial

This piece, which is yet to be built, is a collaborative project between Adjaye Associates and two other architect firms. It will be the first significant building in the UK dedicated to the Holocaust. Plans for the memorial were confirmed late last year, more than 70 years after the Second World War.

Structurally, the piece will consist of 23 flat bronze surfaces with gaps in between them to represent the 22 countries where the Holocaust destroyed Jewish communities. At the Kensington exhibition, a handful of these bronze surfaces will be on show, offering a glimpse of what’s to come. Adjaye’s design also includes a learning centre, which will act as an educational space and a place for reflection. 

National Cathedral of Ghana

A room in the London exhibition features an assortment of Akan objects and a canopy of ceremonial umbrellas — details from the proposed plans for a cathedral in the Ghanaian capital of Accra. Set to be one of Adjaye’s most ambitious works yet, the cathedral will house a 5,000-seat auditorium beneath its dramatic roof — a space which, with the addition of two podiums, will accommodate 15,000 in total. Serving as a community hub and a place for worship, the site will feature a series of chapels, a music school, art gallery and a bible museum. It’s not the first work from Adjaye on the continent: his portfolio also includes a children’s cancer treatment centre in Rwanda and a plant-covered apartment block in Johannesburg. 

Coretta Scott King and Martin Luther King Jr Memorial

(Ed Reeve)

Another of Adjaye’s upcoming projects includes his entry for the Coretta Scott King and Martin Luther King Jr Memorial in Boston, which will be engraved with text from the pair’s iconic speeches and engraved in typography by African-American artist Adam Pendleton and type designer David Reinfurt. Though a winner for the competition is yet to be announced, Adjaye hopes for it to be placed over the highest point of Boston Common, to serve as a place for action and gatherings. 

As a nod to the project, exhibition curators in London have placed two screens playing rolling speeches made by both Kings, as well as a silkscreen from Pendleton.

Mass Extinction Memorial Observatory 

(Ed Reeve)

Books and documents exploring biodiversity will be on display at the Kensington exhibition, to reflect Adjaye’s plans for a monument in memory of extinct species. A carving of an extinct gastric brooding frog can also be seen at the show — with the intention for it to be installed within the actual memorial itself.  

As well as being a visual spectacle, the 30 metre tall stone spiral on the Isle of Portland will house an information centre with details of 860 species that have already become extinct. Perched on the cliff’s edge, the memorial will also contain an observatory, granting visitors great views over the Bower Quarry. 

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