Architect of a New London; Light and Shade: David Adjaye (Far Right) and His Rivington Place (Left), and the Stephen Lawrence Centre out of the Woods: Unusual Purple Heartwood from Guyana Adds to the Cultural Wow Factor at the Bernie Grant Arts Centre in Tottenham

The Evening Standard (London, England), October 2, 2007 | Go to article overview

Architect of a New London; Light and Shade: David Adjaye (Far Right) and His Rivington Place (Left), and the Stephen Lawrence Centre out of the Woods: Unusual Purple Heartwood from Guyana Adds to the Cultural Wow Factor at the Bernie Grant Arts Centre in Tottenham


Byline: ROWAN MOORE

LONDON, as everyone knows, is a multicultural city. Ken Livingstonelikes to boast about it, recounting the number of languages spoken in thecapital's schools, and how videos of multi-racial children helped our winningbid for the Olympics.

Most of us feel cautiously proud about it. Proud, because in a half-century wehave done a reasonably good job of changing from a predominantly white city,becoming richer in the process.

Cautious, because we know that some jihadist or BNP convulsion could make itlook much less pretty.

This autumn a new type of multicultural building is coming to London, withthree examples opening in quick succession in Tottenham (last Friday) andShoreditch (this Friday) and Deptford (this month).

This type is hard to name, but it has something to do with culture, andsomething to do with diversity. Two are named after famous black Londoners, themurdered teenager Stephen Lawrence and the late Haringey MP Bernie Grant. Thethird, Rivington Place in Shoreditch, is the brainchild of the 75- year-oldJamaican-born Stuart Hall. All three are designed by David Adjaye, the41-year-old of Ghanaian origin who is the most successful and famous Britisharchitect of his generation.

It is a new version of civic idealism which also raise questions. How do yourepresent diversity, and why? How can tokenism or over-simplification beavoided? In celebrating difference, might division be reinforced? Might theseprojects be merely well-intentioned gestures, whose symbolism outruns theircontent? Adjaye, whether he likes it or not, finds himself at the centre ofsuch questions. His is a spectacularly white profession, and no otherAfro-Caribbean architect has achieved anything like his fame. "I'm notinterested in being the most prominent black architect," he protests, "I'minterested in society."

But he is still used by others as a kind of trophy, as an emblem of diversity.

"I strongly refute symbolic architecture," he says, by which he means using"recognisable icons" of blackness, or diversity, and attaching them tobuildings.

What actually strikes you first about Adjaye's works is their stylishness.

They are modern, with straight lines, confident geometry and plenty of glass,but with a particular pleasure in surface and pattern. At the Stephen Lawrence

Centre in Deptford a big glass wall is animated with a rippling pattern by theartist Chris Ofili; the exterior of Rivington Place is an intriguingchequerboard of dark concrete and dark glass.

Each building is wrapped in a single shade, like a Mercedes or an iPod or otherdelectable objects: silver-grey for the Stephen Lawrence Centre, greyblack forRivington Place, brown-black for the Bernie Grant Centre.

Adjaye started his career designing homes, shops and galleries for the world offashion and art. Now, designing public projects in the less fashionablepostcodes of N15 and SE8, he achieves much of his effect from bringing an auraof glamour to more beaten-up surroundings.

It's simple but effective, announcing to audiences unused to elegance in theirbuilt environment that they too are entitled to it. …

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Architect of a New London; Light and Shade: David Adjaye (Far Right) and His Rivington Place (Left), and the Stephen Lawrence Centre out of the Woods: Unusual Purple Heartwood from Guyana Adds to the Cultural Wow Factor at the Bernie Grant Arts Centre in Tottenham
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