Please upgrade your browser

For the best experience, you should upgrade your browser. Visit our accessibility page to view a list of supported browsers along with links to download the latest version.

Why architectural education shouldn’t happen in isolation

David Adjaye OBE on how art and architecture can be harnessed for community enrichment, engagement and empowerment.

David Adjaye OBE graduated from Architecture & Interiors in 1993. He is the founder of Adjaye Associates, with four international offices around the world, and is recognised as one of the leading architects of his generation. His influences range from contemporary art, music and science to African art forms and the civic life of cities. Built projects include the Nobel Peace Centre, Oslo; the Stephen Lawrence Centre, London; Rivington Place, London and Moscow School of Management, Skolkovo.

Could you talk a little about current projects for your practice? 

I’m really excited about our portfolio right now, because it’s incredibly diverse. To name a few, we’re working with the Eugene Gasana Jr. Foundation on the first paediatric cancer hospital in Africa: the International Children’s Cancer Centre in Kigali, Rwanda. I’m incredibly proud to be a part of this project. We’re working on a large, mixed-use redevelopment project in the Piccadilly area of London. We just broke ground on a community art wall project in Newark, NJ, which will feature the work of 14 local and international artists. We’re also designing the new home for the Studio Museum in Harlem – a really critical institution for contemporary artists of African descent.

Could you identify a few projects that stand out in your career as highlights in your practice (subjectively, rather than judged by critical response)?

The Idea Stores in Tower Hamlets were a major milestone, because they were my first public commission. Similarly, the Museum of Contemporary Art in Denver was the first public commission in America and was a key part of becoming a global practice. And, of course, the National Museum of African American History and Culture in DC is a dream commission. The opportunity to contribute to such a powerful narrative and to celebrate the African American community is a unique honour.

What was it that attracted you to the RCA (as opposed to other schools) when you applied?  

I knew I wanted an architectural education that didn’t operate in isolation. I have always found the discourse of contemporary art incredibly stimulating and relevant to the process of making – even today it is a huge part of how I approach design. It was very important to me to be at an institution that was strong in art, sculpture, painting so I could be surrounded by talented students who practice those disciplines.

Do you have particular memories of your tutors and fellow students at the RCA?

My interactions with my fellow students were the most defining aspects of my time at RCA. They helped open my eyes to the possibility of interdisciplinary engagement – about how art and architecture might be harnessed together for community enrichment, engagement and empowerment.

When you graduated from the RCA, did you have a grand plan for the future?

No, there was no grand plan. There was just a firm determination to spend my life practising what I loved. 

Have you stayed in touch with your RCA peers, or had the opportunity to collaborate with fellow RCA alumni from Architecture or other disciplines?

Yes, in fact it was my fellow alumni who gave me my first commissions. Some, like Chris Ofili, have become regular collaborators across my career. But many of the opportunities I’ve had in my career have been a direct result of the friendships I forged at the RCA.

What, in your opinion, should architecture education be seeking to achieve (as opposed to architecture as a practice)?

I believe architectural education should not be myopic. While of course it needs to engage with the lineages of the discipline, it should also be incorporating the contemporary world, giving students an ability to engage with technology, politics, culture, communities – all those things that make architecture relevant in the world and give it meaning.

Enjoyed this story? Discover more alumni stories here.

"Many of the opportunities I’ve had in my career have been a direct result of the friendships I forged at the RCA."
David Adjaye
David Adjaye