British public buildings just don't work - top architect
David Adjaye, one of the country's brightest young architects, is
working to create a more welcoming and user-friendly urban landscape
| now, that was quick!
Adjaye, the son of a Ghanaian diplomat, was born in Dar es Salaam in
1966 and travelled the world with his family before settling in north
London at the age of nine. His status has been bolstered by his famous
charm: he has offended nobody with either his architecture or his
manner. He is a Gatsby-esque figure whose gaze, like that of F Scott
Fitzgerald's hero, assures you that it has precisely the impression of
you that, at your best, you hope to convey. He did once, however, fall
out with Janet Street-Porter over the completion of her new home. The
argument stemmed, Adjaye told me, from her failure to grasp the
difference between the responsibilities of architects and builders.
So how does Adjaye's work compare with the early buildings of
established stars? His houses are finely wrought; the Peace Centre is an
elegantly arranged exhibition space; and the Eliasson pavilion possesses
grace and gravitas. But none radiates the potential of, say, Hadid's
small but riveting fire station for the Vitra design and manufacturing
complex near Weil am Rhein (1993). Nor do they possess the stark
insouciance of the plastic cigarette lighter on prongs that is Will
Alsop's 1994 Cardiff Visitor Centre. And they certainly can't begin to
compete with the still shocking brilliance of Norman Foster's
headquarters for Willis Faber and Dumas, completed in 1975.
Adjaye must also be measured against baroque modernism's heavy mob -
Herzog & de Meuron, Rem Koolhaas and Jean Nouvel. Last year they
completed three buildings of almost outrageous complexity: respectively,
the de Young Museum in San Francisco, the Casa da Musica in Porto, and
the extension of Madrid's Centro de Arte Reina SofIa. Adjaye can't yet
deliver architecture of such powerful presence; nor, despite his A-list
art-world connections, is he nearly as influential as Koolhaas, the
self-proclaimed decoder of "the violent surf of information".