David Adjaye: Making Memory

February 8, 2019
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The Design Museum

The Design Museum has had a brilliant run of form since it reopened in 2016, establishing a distinctive visual language that immerses visitors in its strange, often esoteric world.

Its new show David Adjaye: Making Memory isn’t like this at all. It’s quiet and contemplative, the walls painted a neutral grey, the soundtrack the kind thing you might listen to while getting a massage.

British-Ghanaian architect Adjaye’s eclectic portfolio spans private homes, public buildings and art installations, but this exhibition focuses on his reputation as the go-to guy for memorials. He’s tactfully marked atrocities in cities from London to Korea’s Gwangju, designed a cathedral in Accra and dreamed up a secular “mass extinction” memorial to be built on the Isle of Portland.

Each of the seven monuments described in detail is accompanied by exquisite architectural models and reams of information, with Adjaye himself featuring in videos clips adding colour and context.

There are partial reconstructions of several of them, including the upcoming Martin Luther King Jr memorial in Boston, which add visual flair to some otherwise austere curation.

There’s a nod to the current controversy over historically dubious – or just outright racist – Confederate monuments in the US, although this aspect feels a little underplayed, a missed opportunity to add some of the bold messaging seen in previous exhibitions here.

But for the most part, this is an architecture exhibition for architects: dense, technical and laced with jargon (indeed, the two groups of people I eavesdropped on during my visit both worked in the field).

Students of architecture – literal and otherwise – will find much to admire. Others, like me, will find it a few steps too far removed from the vibrant, interactive installations the Design Museum has become known for.