I think I am in one of those situations where there is someone I should have written about and I don’t do it and suddenly the person dies and I am faced with writing an obituary.
Luckily, this person is very much alive.
I am not sure if, at this time, he is “the Ghanaian-British architect, or “the celebrated British-Ghanaian architect”, Sir David Adjaye, OBE; whichever designation you prefer, there is no question but that he is in the news currently not for his architectural exploits.
The last headline I checked said Sir David Adjaye “had lost SEVEN key roles” in relation to his professional work since July 4, 2023, when the Financial Times published serious allegations, made by three women, of sexual misconduct against him.
This was a painful story for me to follow, first of all, I didn’t expect the FT to deal in such grubby fare, but my long life has thrown out stranger matters.
And then, my instincts are to damn anyone accused of sexual misconduct, so, I am puzzled that what appeared to interest many of the news outlets was the number of architectural commissions Sir David Adjaye had lost or was likely to lose as a result of the publications.
The positions he has relinquished include an advisory position with London Mayor Sadiq Khan, building projects including the UK’s new Holocaust Memorial and a public library in Oregon that said it had cut ties with his firm, Adjaye Associates, entirely.
How do I explain the enthusiasm with which CNN for example is providing a full account of all ongoing projects that Sir David Adjaye was involved in and how many he had lost so far?
It said since the initial publication of their article, CNN had received additional statements from the Ghana-based African Future Institute, which confirmed Adjaye “stepped away from his role as a patron of the AFI immediately following the allegations,” and the African Institute, in Sharjah, United Arab Emirates, which confirmed the institute’s decision to cancel plans for a new campus designed by Adjaye Associates altogether.
And to make the point that CNN was expecting more projects to drop the suddenly toxic David Adjaye, we are told:
“CNN has also reached out to representatives for buildings and commissions which have been in development with Adjaye Associates around the world, including the Batsheva Arts Centre in Tel Aviv, Israel, the Thabo Mbeki Presidential Library in Johannesburg, South Africa, and the Barbados Heritage District in Bridgeton, Barbados, among others, but received no response.”
Up until a few weeks ago, this was the man that was up there on a pedestal.
He was knighted in 2017, was awarded British architecture’s highest accolade, the Royal Institute of British Architects’ gold medal, in 2021, and was awarded the Order of Merit last year.
The Financial Times in breaking their story about the sexual misconduct allegations demonstrated the dizzying heights at which this man was that they were about to expose as mired in maximum filth.
This is how they started their story:
“When Sir David Adjaye was awarded the Gold Medal in 2021 by the Royal Institute of British Architects, the guest of honour at the virtual ceremony was Barack Obama.
The former president had inaugurated the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington in 2016 — one of the crowning achievements of Adjaye’s gilded career designing buildings around the world.
Obama was in no doubt about the talent of the Ghanaian-British architect, “Genius, pure and simple”.
The moment cemented Adjaye’s status as one of the most prominent architects of the age.
He has been commissioned to design the UK’s new Holocaust memorial, Ghana’s national cathedral in Accra and a museum of West African art in Benin City, Nigeria.
Among his current projects is the redevelopment of Liverpool’s International Slavery Museum and a museum of west African art in Benin City, Nigeria.”
I hesitate to say this but unfortunately, someone ought to have told our Ghanaian-British architect that when the Western media is that generous about a black man, you can be sure his days at the top are numbered.
And if he strays into the sexual misconduct mire, which is where they would be on the lookout for him anyway, nothing will save him from destruction.
In a profession that rewards age and experience, one famous British journalist wrote five years ago that the British-Ghanaian architect David Adjaye had “hit the top without having to wait his turn.”
The journalist wrote that David Adjaye “has buildings or ongoing projects on four continents.
He spends a third of his life on aeroplanes; maintains offices in London, New York, Berlin and Accra; and rarely spends two consecutive nights in the same bed.”
It must be said though that his work has not always been universally admired.
Some describe it as unduly harsh; others felt he had come too far too fast.
Another architecture critic complained that Adjaye’s vision paid insufficient attention to practical details, “as if he is too easily persuaded by his own eloquence.”
The attacks did not seem to have slowed down Adjaye, and he went on to score notable successes such as the Nobel Peace Centre in Oslo, the Museum of Contemporary Art Denver, and the Moscow School of Management Skolkovo, which was his first really big project.
Then came the undoubted big one, the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington DC.
I must confess that when I went to see it in 2019, I was overwhelmed and couldn’t really understand it.
Let me borrow a description of the building in an architecture magazine:
“It’s a tiered, upside-down ziggurat—three stacked square boxes with outward-leaning walls, resting on a glass-and-steel base.
The zigzag silhouette is shrouded in open-work aluminium panels painted dark bronze—in striking contrast to its white-marble and limestone neoclassical neighbours.
It’s a daring contemporary design based on Yoruba tribal motifs.
It takes your breath away, or to quote Barrack Obama, “genius, pure and simple”.
A month ago his first skyscraper was commissioned in Manhattan to widespread acclaim.
In Ghana, our opportunity to see his work in a public building has stalled with the difficulties the National Cathedral has run into.
But he did design the Agenda 111 hospitals and those working on the projects are speaking highly about the meticulous work his firm has done with the design of the hospitals.
Plus, he seems to have saved us a lot of money, his designs being in the US$20 million range as compared to the US$35 million of his competitors.
Sir David Adjaye is known for his artistic sensitivity and deft use of space and inexpensive, unexpected materials.
He is rightly celebrated for his ingenious use of materials, bespoke designs and visionary sensibilities testifying to the originality of an architect at the height of his talents who is changing the face of our built world.
Suddenly he can’t be allowed near a building any more.
Back in the middle 1990s, I came back to London after a longish trip to the news that a Ghanaian of my acquaintance had floated his company on the London Stock Exchange.
Of course, I was excited.
Then I got a call from a friend of mine on one of the top British newspapers who wanted me to help him in an exposé they were doing on this man.
The newspaper told me they believed this man who had floated a company on the Stock Exchange was not the true royal he had been claiming to be in London.
Since I was a Ghanaian, they were hoping I knew the truth or could easily find out the truth and tell them so they could expose him for being the fake royal they believed him to be.
I was horrified and said I would do no such thing.
I told the journalist that it was not lost on those of us who had come from Africa to live in their country how impressed the British were with royalty and I would not begrudge anyone calling himself an African prince or princess if that would open doors for them in British society.
It was significant that this newspaper was not trying to expose this man for shady financial deals, they wanted a story that would expose him as a fake royal and it would doubtless do the same job of shattering his standing in the business world.
I can’t understand why Sir David Adjaye should give up his architectural commissions because he has been accused of sexual misconduct.
Why do I get the feeling they are trying to show he is a fake royal to prove he shouldn’t be celebrated as an architect?
story by Hon.Elizabeth Ohene