Sir David Adjaye to Design the Museum’s New Home

Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, 2016. Freelon Adjaye Bond / SmithGroup. Photo by Bran Feinknopf Even as the Art Museum welcomes visitors and organizes exhibitions that will run through 2020, Museum staff and many of our University colleagues are busily at work planning for the new Museum facility that will replace most of the current complex and allow for substantially expanded display space and other functions. We are especially delighted to do so in partnership with Sir David Adjaye and his team at Adjaye Associates, now recognized worldwide as leading designers of major civic buildings around the globe, working in partnership with the New York–based firm Cooper Robertson acting as executive architect.

Born in Tanzania to Ghanaian parents, Adjaye was educated at London South Bank University and the Royal College of Art in London prior to opening his first office there in 1994. His sculptural ability, rich color palette, and inventive use of eclectic materials quickly established him as an architect with an artist’s sensibility and vision. Today, Adjaye Associates work from offices in London, New York, and Accra and have undertaken projects in Europe, North America, the Middle East, Asia, and Africa. Highlights include Ruby City, a new contemporary art center in San Antonio, Texas; Sugar Hill housing development and museum in Harlem, New York; the Moscow School of Management SKOLKOVO; the Museum of Contemporary Art Denver; The Nobel Peace Center in Oslo; the Idea Stores in Tower Hamlets, London; and the Aïshti Foundation retail and art complex in Beirut. Among projects currently underway are a new home for the Studio Museum in Harlem, New York; the National Cathedral of Ghana in Accra; and the UK Holocaust Memorial and Learning Centre in London. Adjaye’s numerous collaborations with contemporary artists, curators, and gallerists include partnering on the Fifty-Sixth Venice Biennale’s central pavilion and principal exhibition spaces with curator Okwui Enwezor in 2015 and his design for Ghana’s first national pavilion in Venice in 2019.

Museum of Contemporary Art Denver, 2007. Adjaye Associates. Photo by Lyndon DouglasAdjaye is perhaps best known as the mind behind the Smithsonian’s groundbreaking National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, DC. Opened in fall of 2016, the $540 million project was hailed as the Cultural Event of the Year by the New York Times and as Beazley Design of the Year by London’s Design Museum. The ziggurat form of the building’s profile took inspiration from the Yoruban Caryatid, a traditional post or column topped with a corona, while its perforated bronze skin shields its interiors from strong daylight and affords views from the inside out. The building was hailed as a “major turning point” in architecture, and Beazley Design award judge Ozwald Boateng said of the museum, “It is a project of beautiful design, massive cultural impact, delivers an emotional experience, and has a scale deserved of this major award. You enter the building clouded in darkness and work your ways through the displays and end bathed in light.” This January the American Institute of Architects awarded the Museum of African American History a 2019 Honor Award for Architecture.

The recipient of numerous accolades for his global body of work, Adjaye received the AJ100 Contribution to the Profession award in 2018, the Panerai London Design Medal from the London Design Festival in 2016, and the Wall Street Journal’s Innovator Award in 2013. He was named to the Order of the British Empire in 2007 and knighted by Queen Elizabeth II in 2017 for services to architecture.

Studio Museum Harlem, current. Adjaye Associates + Cooper Robertson. Render courtesy of Adjaye AssociatesWhile Adjaye’s buildings differ widely in form and style and defy reduction to a single aesthetic, they are unified by their ability to generate new typologies and to reference a broad cultural discourse. Drawing on such influences as science, music, and the civic life of cities, Adjaye embraces and adapts to each project’s location, history, and context—which is precisely why he emerged as the chosen architect from a crowded field to make a landmark new building in the heart of the University’s historic campus. Museum Director James Steward notes, “David completely wowed us during the architect selection process with his remarkable intelligence and thoughtfulness in responding to a rich and complicated environment. My sense that he was absolutely the right choice has only grown as we’ve moved through concept and schematic design. . . . He’s both utterly intuitive and a deep listener, which is a rare combination.”

Adjaye is not new to Princeton University—from 2008 through 2010 he was a visiting professor at Princeton’s School of Architecture, making him intimately familiar with the campus vernacular and particularly the collegiate gothic which is the core of that style, with its strong verticality and vista-shaping archways. “Having taught on this campus, he understands fully what the University and the Art Museum are looking to accomplish,” noted Princeton President Christopher L. Eisgruber. “I am thrilled that Adjaye Associates and their skilled collaborators at Cooper Robertson will serve as the architects for this project.”

In making a new home, the Art Museum seeks to reinforce its position as a hub for the arts and humanities on campus, as well as a destination for visitors from around the region and around the world—shaping what Adjaye has termed “a new synthesis of art, learning, and social opportunities.” As he has described it, “The reimagined museum will be the cultural gateway between Princeton University, its students, faculty, and the world, a place of mind-opening encounter with art and ideas ‘in the service of humanity.’” The Museum and the University look forward to sharing the design for this reimagined institution early in 2020.