David Adjaye

In an Interview with Mónica Ponce de León, the current dean of Princeton University’s School of Architecture, she addressed systematic inequality in the profession of architecture and cited a statistic that in this profession, only 2% of architects are Black.

When I entered Princeton’s Master of Architecture program in 2009, then dean Stan Allen invited esteemed Black architect David Adjaye (the designer of Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture) to teach advanced design studios for two semesters. I applied to be in his studio as my first choice and was accepted.

David Adjaye wanted his students to have nonstandard artistic sensibilities. As an example, his oeuvre frequently has connections to traditional African arts and crafts for textural definitions and tectonic patterns. His Moscow School of Management also sought to connect cultural heritage through bold massing by utilizing Kazmir Malevich’s Suprematist paintings. Although he often reaches into art to inspire his designs, Adjaye is a traditional master builder: as evidenced by his numerous built projects and from the publication of his book “Form Heft and Material.”

In his Princeton design studio, he took a nurturing perspective toward my concept of framing mundane views of the site with grand tectonic gestures. He understood that there was poetry in capturing and celebrating the everyday sights and encouraged me to always consider the human scale and experience of architecture as the driving force in making spaces and forms.

I did not request to be in his studio because of the color of his skin, but because his approach to architecture was beautiful and elegant. However, being his student as a minority man, gave me a sense of pride and strength that I did not anticipate. David Adjaye remains one of the most influential instructors I learned from, and I feel fortunate to have had the tutelage of a man who surely overcame prejudices and discrimination to rise to the level of a master architect.