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Beazley Designs of the Year : Architecture Nominee
Q&A with Sir David Adjaye
In this collection of interviews, some of this year's Beazley Designs of the Year nominees share their design stories, challenges and aspirations with the Design Museum.
What was the initial motivation for your design?
For me working on the National Museum of African American History and Culture was about uncovering history and trying to convey the contributions of a community whose importance to the social fabric of American life has too often been invisible. The African American story is about one culture having empathy with another. I have always understood this project to be about people from one culture understanding the experience of people from a different culture.
What was the first conversation you had with your team? How did the design develop from there?
One of the first big questions we asked was: “How do you approach this monumental site right next to the Washington Monument, how do you add to one of the most significant master plans in the world?” We were aware that we will be designing the last museum that could be added to the National Mall, ‘the nation’s front yard’… and we’d better get it right.
What obstacles did you face whilst working on your project?
NMAAHC is truly so much bigger than a building. It is the culmination of a 100-year struggle to do justice to a complex and significant history of a people whose stories are still too rarely told. There is an immense responsibility inherent in this project. That was weighty and challenging, but also invigorating.
What is the latest news regarding your project? Has it fulfilled your initial hopes?
We celebrated the first anniversary of the museum a few months ago and a NMAAHC stamp was just released… One year on, the museum has seen more than 3 million visitors. The interest and positive reception is immense. To be afforded the chance to contribute something with so much resonance is what architects dream about. It’s a true testament to the power of a politically and socially charged space.
What’s the one thing you’d like people to remember about your design when they leave the exhibition?
I wanted to create a design that transforms the museum from a viewing experience into a narrative experience. I’d like visitors to walk away feeling as though they’ve been on a journey.
What does it mean to you to be nominated for this year’s Beazley Designs of the Year?
Ten years ago, our Stephen Lawrence Centre in London was featured in the inaugural Beazley Designs of the Year. To be nominated again, it feels as though things have come full circle for us. It is an opportunity to reflect on the past decade of work. We feel privileged to have shared this journey with the Design Museum.
If you had one piece of advice to a young designer, what would it be?
Be inquisitive and engage: architecture should not be practiced in a vacuum. Do not be afraid to get your hands dirty and learn about the context in which you wish to work. Architecture is always in conversation with the world around it, and the best architecture must have something compelling to add to that dialogue.