David Adjaye: “Africa offers an extraordinary opportunity”

David Adjaye: “Africa offers an extraordinary opportunity”
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David Adjaye discusses his longstanding fascination with Africa and the opportunities it holds for architects. 

David Adjaye designed an office campus featuring ten conical towers, as part of the Naguru-Nakawa project by Plus Architecture

During an interview at Design Indaba 2013 in South Africa, Adjaye spoke to Dezeen’s editor-in-chief Marcus Fairs about his extensive survey Adjaye Africa Architecture and the new opportunities for architects working in Africa.

“Africa offers an extraordinary opportunity at the moment,” explained Adjaye, who said that the continent’s GDP growth was outperforming that of China.

Terrain classifications, from Adjaye Africa Architecture

“Suddenly with this rapid economic development, there is this mass migration into the cities, which is really traumatic. How do we plan for the expansion of these cities, which were originally built for a limited few?”

“With the right political agency and the right construction environment, you can create extraordinary moments in architecture. And that, for me, is very exciting.”

Rabat, Morocco, from Adjaye Africa Architecture

Adjaye, who has several projects currently under way in Africa, has opened an office in Accra – the city Adjaye describes as “his ancestral home” – to focus on work on the continent.

“Throughout Africa there is a great need for housing, so housing is incredibly important, and masterplanning, so we’ve developed those skills in the office and we have started to engage with that,” he said.

Botswana, from Adjaye Africa Architecture

“You’ll see much more masterplanning and projects emerging from the Accra office that are very different from what usually comes from Adjaye Associates.”

Born in Tanzania and educated in the UK, Adjaye had been working on an 11 year project to document the architecture of the continent and discover more about the geography and history behind modern Africa, as well as the political climates of its cities, towns and villages.

The project ended up forming the basis of a seven-volume book entitled Adjaye Africa Architecture, which was published in 2011.

“We moved around so much that before I was 14 I had visited a dozen countries on the continent,” he said. “From a very early age I had a complex view of the continent, from being in my father’s village to seeing the metropolitan skyline of Nairobi, which, in the 1960s, was the incredible new modern city in Africa.”

“After graduation I realised that I wanted to revisit the continent of Africa – not through the lens of my parents, or through any kind of formal experience like tourism – but I wanted to claim it for my own, as a set of experiences that were about my negotiation of people.” he said.

“There are very extreme climates with extraordinary histories, which have created these incredible contemporary conditions. That is the lens through which you have to understand the continent.”