David Adjaye: Making Memory

A Multisensory Tour. The Design Museum 9 March 2019

The entrance to the Making Memory exhibition, showing how the photographs have been installed. The bottom photographs have been installed facing upwards at an angle, while the top row have been installed facing downwards at an angle too, making the photo displays seeming like they wrap around the viewers.

Image: Entrance to the Making Memory exhibition.


This exhibition helps us discover the work of celebrated architect Sir David Adjaye (OBE), with the tour focusing on his use of story-telling to create unique monuments and memorials, from the Smithsonian Natural Museum of African American History, to the Sclera pavilion.

Adjaye’s landmark structures in this exhibition explore the design, role and use of contemporary monuments. These monuments and memorials show how he uses architecture and form to reflect on history, memory and record human lives, answering questions of how buildings can shape our perception of events – past, present and future. Visitor’s will experience the storytelling power of architecture through an exploration of seven monumental projects.

The exhibition also uses soundscapes for each display, in response to the narrative and context of each display. The tracks for the soundscape were written by Peter Adjaye, David’s DJ brother. This soundscape, including the use of dark grey colours on the wall in the first 5 rooms, gives the overall display an immersive and emotive feel, something a few in our VI audience were quick to mention.


The Gwangju River Reading room is a pavilion on 2 levels. The top is made of timber and held on the bottom by four pillars made our of concrete. The four pillars house 200 books to celebrate the lives of the 200 people killed during the 1980 massacre.

Image: Gwangju Pavilion| Image Credit: Kyungsug Shin

The River Reading Room sits on the embankment of the River Gwangju, connecting the street level above with the grassy planes below. Completed in 2013, the pavilion’s design was influenced by traditional Korean pagoda. The memorial was inspired by the 1980 Gwangju uprising, also known as the May 18 Democratic Uprising, where local Chonnam University students demonstrated against the governments martial law practices. It was reported that 200 people died, though other records state that up to 2,000 people lost their lives during the uprising.

The pavilion consists of two primary materials, concrete and timber. The concrete base takes into consideration the maximum level of the river and is designed so that it could be submerged in water at high tide. Steps are carved into the concrete to form seating areas and viewing platforms on which to sit, read, contemplate and reflect.

Four pillars around the perimeter house the books. When the concrete is submerged, the timber structure appears to float above the water. A 1:20 scale wooden model in the middle of the room is placed on a waist high plinth. On the wall are 8 LED light box photographic displays, and on the left is a recreation of one of the 4 bookcases from the memorial, filled with a selection of books chosen by the writer Taiye Selasi.


The Smithsonian museum design was influenced by the shape of the Olowe of Ise wood craft by the Yoruba traditional craftsmen. The design of the facade was inspired by motifs created by Charleston and New Orleans metalworkers.

Image: Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture | Image Credit: Brad Feinknopf

The Smithsonian is dedicated to telling the story of black American lives, from slavery to the present days. Built over 8 floors (4 above ground and 4 below ground), the building itself is a monument to the stories told inside, with the architecture actively contextualising the memories represented. The museum’s three-tiered structure is covered in bronze panels.

The museum was inaugurated by President Obama in September 2016 on the last available plot at the National Mall in Washington D.C. and was a long-awaited symbol of the African American contribution to the nation’s history and identity. Adjaye’s approach created a strong conceptual resonance with America’s longstanding African heritage.

The Smithsonian was 100 years in the making, with black civil war veterans first proposing a national museum of African American History in 1915. Even with a successful fund-raising campaign, it took 100 years for this project to come to fruition, first influenced by President Bush, and then completed during the Obama presidency. The 1:100 scale model in the middle of the room is made of wood.

Next to the model of the museum is a wooden sculpture of a Yoruba Veranda post by Olowe of Ise, circa 1910 – 1914. This Nigerian sculpture, made out of carved wood, stands at just over 5-foot tall and is placed on a 12 inch tall wooden plinth with black metal barrier. The museum’s stacked shape takes inspiration from the top portion of this early 20th century Yoruba craftwork. Olowe’s wooden sculptures were created for use as columns, holding up the porches of shrine houses and traditional dwellings.


The entrance to the UK Holocaust memorial features 22 imposing bronze fin structures symbolising the 22 countries affected when Jewish communities were destroyed during the Holocaust.

Image: UK Holocaust Memorial and Learning Centre | Image Credit: Adjaye Associates

This memorial honours the millions who died at the hands of the Nazis during the Holocaust and will be built close to the Houses of Parliament in Westminster. It seeks to inspire visitors to strive to draw meaning and purpose out of tragedy.

The new landmark – to be completed by 2022 – aims to be “a living place, not just a monument to something of the past”, offering visitors an “immersive journey” and “sensory experience” throughout the site. It will be a place to reflect upon, remind and learn from the genocide of Europe’s Jewish population.

The Memorial is embedded within the landscape, and the Learning Centre is embedded within the Memorial. Entrance to the memorial features 23 imposing bronze fin structures, with the gaps between the fins representing the 22 countries where the Holocaust destroyed Jewish communities. The striking memorial will have a modern, minimalist feel, combining a striking architectural memorial above ground that leads to an engaging, reflective and powerful exhibition below.

Visitors can expect different experiences along each pathway between the fins before the walks culminate at a cavernous main hall (known as the Threshold), intended to be a place for contemplation before moving into the adjoining Learning Centre in the level below ground.

The sound in this room is a lot quieter and sombre than the previous room, with the sound of the trombone providing a soothing and subtle presence. In the middle of the room is a 1:200 model of the centre.


The Sclera pavilion was inspired by the human eye and is a small, simple structure. It is made out of Tulipwood and is yellowish brown in colour. The tulipwood is installed vertically and hinged on the top and pinned down at its base. Every one of the tulipwood used are of different lengths.

Image: Sclera | Image Credit: Leonardo Finotti

As part of the London Design Festival in 2008, David Adjaye was selected to create a spectacular outdoor temporary structure to challenge the public perception of everyday materials. He created the Sclera Pavilion, in collaboration with American Hardwood Export Council, using tulip-wood presented as the prototype of a new material that had never been used as an external building material.

This project is the only one in this exhibition that is not a memorial as such. It was designed as a public space that could be ultimately calming and uplifting whilst in the centre of the city. The work is characterized by an innovative design that explores the possibilities of designing a unique space from a simple design element.

The shape was inspired by the human eye and is a small, simple structure that best exemplifies Adjaye’s use of architecture as a dynamic space for experience. He chose the name to make reference to a “space from my point of view.” In that sense, Sclera is a monument to slowing down.

The pavilion consists of two circular chambers. The lateral entrance to the first chamber leads into the second and larger chamber, creating a strong sense of space. The entire interior offers visitors an experience of spatiality transmitted by the elliptical shape of the wall and the floor, and the ceilings dimensional and smooth curves. The clarity of the wood and the shapes and spaces provide an intense sensory experience as the visitor moves through the work.

A 1:20 scale model of the Sclera is installed in the centre of the room, with a 1:1 scale fragment of the pavilion installed to the side. We are allowed to touch the sclera model and getting close reveals the pinkish yellowish or slightly yellowish brown colour, and light refreshing scent in the wood. It almost smells like it has a very light perfumery smell.


The National Cathedral of Ghana will have its main architectural concept drawn from both contemporary Christian architectural principles and motifs from traditional Akan culture.

Image: National Cathedral of Ghana | Credit: Adjaye Associates

Based in Accra, the National Cathedral of Ghana will be a unique 21st-century landmark where religion, democracy and local tradition are seamlessly and symbolically intertwined.

The Cathedral’s main architectural concept draws on both contemporary Christian architectural principles and motifs from traditional Akan culture. The building also references several ancient symbols, materials and processes still in use in Akan culture today.

Situated within 14 acres of landscaped gardens, the proposed design will house a two-level 5000-seat auditorium which, with the addition of two podiums designed for standing, can accommodate a congregation of up to 15,000 people. In the middle of the room is a 1:250 wooden scale model of the cathedral.

Installed in the ceiling above are 5 brightly coloured ceremonial Asante umbrella’s. Handmade in Kumasi, they are used at weddings, funerals and other ceremonies but they are also partly functional because they are used to provide shelter from the rain and sun. Only Chiefs and senior members of the Akran clans used the larger umbrellas as they are a symbol of STATUS and POWER.

There are also 5 Asante umbrella finials installed vertically along a side wall. The ASANTE umbrella finials are hand carved finials intended to sit on top of the ceremonial umbrellas. The form and subject of the finials are based on proverbs that reflect certain characteristics associated with the AKRAN clan and respective chiefs.

David also selected several artists to adorn the buildings interiors. An example of this are the 2 ADINKRA textiles from 1960 hanging on the wall to the left as you walk into the display. They are handwoven and stamped cotton Adire African textiles and have Adinkra symbols printed on the textile. Traditionally, Spiritual leaders and Royalty wore them but nowadays anyone can buy and use them. 


The Mass Extinction Memorial Observatory is designed as a continuous spiral walk wrapped around a central atrium. The spiralling form is based on the gastropod fossils, looking like a snail or slug. The inside follows the shape of a corkscrew, rising from the bottom all the way to the top of the structure.

Image: Mass Extinction Memorial Observatory

To be built along the Jurassic coast on the isle of Portland in Dorset, this memorial is a project designed to raise awareness on extinction. The observatory is designed as a continuous spiral walk wrapped around a large central atrium. Lining the interior of the MEMO will be stone carvings of 860 extinct species. The building will be on the site of the old quarry that the limestone of St Paul’s Cathedral was quarried.

The spiraling form of the building is based on the gastropod fossils commonly found in the quarry. Floors inside the building will follow the corkscrew shape.

To the right of the room is a stone carving of the Gastric Brooding Frogs. The brooding frog are ground dwelling frogs native to Australia, and was discovered in 1970 and classed as extinct in 1983, a tragic loss to biologists and environmentalists.

Fun fact: The brooding frogs were known for their ability to incubate or brood their young ones in their stomach. The gastric brooding frog were known to swallow its eggs once it had laid them, to keep them safe, with the baby frogs hopping out when they were ready.


This memorial wall for the Coretta Scott King and Martin Luther King Jr Memorial is made from Valchromat. Dr King's speeches will be carved into the stone wall of the memorial and this wall shows a new speech to text typography that will digitally carved into the wall, each word corresponding to the rhythms and pitch of the spoken word.

Image: Coretta Scott King and Martin Luther King Jr wall

This is the first opportunity to see an in-depth display of the proposed Coretta Scott King and Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial in Boston. Featuring Adjaye Associates proposal for the memorial, it will be placed at the highest point of Boston Common, the city where the Kings studied and met, serving as a place for discursive action and assembly.

The 1:1 model shows how the King’s speeches will be carved into the stone walls of the memorial. This wall is made out of Valchromat, a wood fibre panel which is coloured throughout and engineered for high physical performance. The fibres are individually impregnated with organic dyes and chemically bonded by specifically developed resins that give the panels their special properties.

The depth of the digital carvings corresponds to the rhythms and volume of the original speech so the louder the spoken word, the deeper it is carved. The King monument taps into this and instead of focusing on events, movements or specific acts, it remembers speeches and words.

Wearing powder free latex gloves, we were able to explore the depths and crevices of the text imprint to better understand the speech to text typography used.


On the top row, the first image shows the entrance to the Making Memory exhibition, with VI participants looking upwards towards the wall display as Andrew describes the photographs.

The second image shows VI participants having a close look at the Mass Extinction Memorial Observatory, a white gastropod shaped monument.

The third image shows two VI participants touching the Coretta Scott King and Martin Luther King Jr memorial, while wearing polyethylene gloves.

On the second row, the first image shows the design of a base structure for a memorial made by a VI participant.

The second image shows the upper structure of a memory box made by a VI participant.



The Design Museum
SATURDAY 4 May 2019
10:30 – 12:00

Join this multisensory tour as we step inside the world of Stanley Kubrick, one of the greatest filmmakers of the 20th century.

Stanley Kubrick: The Exhibition, will offer a unique insight into the director’s vast archive through original props and costumes, set models and rare photographs, while tracing the design story behind Kubrick’s body of work.

His fascination with all aspects of design and architecture influenced every stage of all his films. He worked with many key designers of his generation, from Hardy Amies to Saul Bass, Eliot Noyes, Milena Canonero, and Ken Adam.

Note: This tour will start at the earlier time of 10:30 to give us the best opportunity to view the exhibition at the quietest time.

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