Sir. David Adjaye at Milano Design Week
Tuesday 17 April 2018 - Anteo Palazzo del Cinema, Milan
Icon Design Talks: Constructed Narratives, Sir David Adjaye
The architect Adjaye, of Ghanaian origin and London education, deals with the narrative capacity of architecture by recounting the conceptual idea behind his Smithsonian Museum in Washington DC with which, in 2017, he won the Design of the Year award.
The result of a careful historical and socio-political analysis and of a research on the identity of the African-American community, the National Museum of African American History and Culture, more than a collection of objects, is the story of a collective memory. Once the traditional dichotomy between container and content has been overcome, architecture itself becomes narration thanks to a careful reflection on shapes, spatial organization, materials and textures.
The building, organized in 4 levels, houses exhibition halls, social areas, auditoriums and offices. Moving from the first to the top floor, a change in architectural language accompanies the story of a people's history and destiny. From the closed and dark rooms of the first floors that ideally refer to the experience of slavery and segregation, we gradually move towards the opening, the transparency and the light, symbols of redemption and revenge.
The building owes its strong and determined character to the architectural form and to the external skin that covers it: if the form takes up the tradition of pre-colonial African art, the external texture is an abstraction of the decorative motifs of the craft experiences born after the assimilation of the techniques learned from European settlers.
The highest moment of African western art is combined with the ability to learn, from the conquerors, new techniques and expressive languages making them their own.
The result is a mix with a powerful emotional and cultural impact. Without forgetting centuries of oppression and slavery, the story, emphasizing the contribution that African-American culture has brought to the United States in all aspects of social and cultural life, has a strongly positive character made up of relationships, relationships and cultural exchanges.
Relationships and ties that also emerge in architectural language.
In the political and institutional heart of the United States, at the center between the Washington memorial, the White House, the federal government office and the Congress venue, the building fits with expressive force but in a discrete manner respecting the volumetric relations and looking for the dialogue and the visual reference: inside openings cleverly cut out in the façade frame those that are the most iconic and representative buildings of American power.
The great social value of the project, with the central space conceived as a large covered square, meeting place and relationship, is flanked by a strong emotional impact: Light, filtering through the aluminum skin, shapes the surfaces generating perceptions that they change constantly as the conditions of brightness and seasons change.
Using identity and narrative values as elements of the architectural project, Adjaye's work is in line with the objectives of the Open Design School, which recognizes the importance of protecting and enhancing identity in a city of uninterrupted history such as Matera.
Inspired by his speech, presenting our work, we ask him what the secret is to protect identity without falling into rhetoric: to give value to tradition without giving up a contemporary language, to abstract the forms without losing their meaning.