Book Review: Creative Self-Portrait

David Adjaye: Constructed Narratives. Edited by Peter Allison (Lars Müller Publishers, $49)

Constructed_Narratives_Adjaye COVER_20161006.inddIn ten chapters, David Adjaye discusses his concerns as an architect, from his critical observations of African cities, to the realization of his National Museum of African-American History and Culture in Washington DC. Along the way he explores his temporary pavilions, houses, materiasl strategies, and public buildings around the world. It’s an informal monograph that includes most of his major work over the past 20 years, and a reflection on the elements that compose it. This the fourth book the architect has produced, and it serves as a summary and update of the three that preceded it.

Impeccably produced, like all of Lars Müller’s books, it has a physical and intellectual density that marks it off from most architect-produced books. The writing is lucid, the tone pragmatic: It’s all about practice, not theory–from the enigmatic artists’ houses that made his reputation to the exuberance of the museum and the neo-Constructivist Moscow School of Management.

Most of Adjaye’s earlier work is frugal, enlivening humble materials with natural light, generous space and vibrant color–notably in the Ideas Stores in London’s East End, and his branch libraries in Washington DC. It’s inspiring to see how much can be done with so little. Adjaye has a natural gift for explaing what he does and why. And yet, as he disclaims in his introduction, “The combination of text and images is meant to provide a window on the work because, if I am honest, I am not that interested in trying to fully explain exactly what I am doing in words. I resist doing that because it is a slippery slope, but I am interested in giving leads to a possible explanation. It is important to me that the essays in the book are open-ended–they are ways to understand the routes that I have taken and where they might lead.” — Michael Webb

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