David Adjaye – Wall Street Journal’s 2013 Architecture Innovator

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David Adjaye
Photo: Sze Tsung Leong

Wall Street Journal | November 2013
By Ian Volner

The New Affordable apartment complex going up at the corner of 155th Street and St. Nicholas Avenue in the uppermost reaches of Manhattan cuts an unlikely figure. This is Sugar Hill, after all, so named in the early 20th century by African Americans who flocked to what they considered the sweet spot of Harlem—now an area of 100-year-old brownstones and stately apartment buildings. In outline, the high-rise, which will also provide housing for the homeless, is a big, chunky block with a serrated upper story; its bulk, along with its ridged panels of graphite-cast concrete, give it more than its share of grit and brawn. Yet look closer at those panels: Visible from the right angle and in the right light, the cladding bears the traces of a floral pattern, enormous roses etched into the rough surface.

For all its scale and strength, the building has a rapport with its urban environs: The blooms reference the decorative motifs on some of the nearby apartments, while the jagged mass echoes the angled row houses along St. Nicholas Avenue. This is a structure that doesn’t attempt to blend in, but instead establishes an unusual type of architectural dialogue, speaking to its surroundings with a forthrightness and intimacy that’s rare for any building, much less an a”ordable housing development in an underprivileged neighborhood. Few architects could have pulled it off – but for David Adjaye, the ability to speak to experiences and to people outside the norms of his profession has become a hallmark. It’s what has led the designer to the crowning moment of his career: the commission for the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C…

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