Let's say we gathered the world's top architects and played a game of "Which of these is not like the others?" David Adjaye, one of the newest members of that club, would stand out. Because at 43 years old, he is so young.
Architecture today is an old man's field. It is not like literature or film or technology, where twenty- and thirty-somethings regularly burst into the elite. You do your time. You build a few small things, then bigger ones. If you're lucky, when everyone else is ready for AARP membership, you reach the top of the field and stay there until you die. The precocious Herzog and de Meuron are 59. Frank Gehry is 80. When Thom Mayne—who's still being called a rising star—won the Pritzker Prize in 2005, he thanked the jury for honoring him "as a young architect." He was 61.
And then there is Adjaye, who has earned praise for designing Denver's Museum of Contemporary Art as well as homes for celebrities such as Ewan McGregor and artists such as Jake Chapman. This fall, his Moscow School of Management complex will open on the outskirts of the Russian capital. And this past spring, he won the most prestigious commission of his career, beating out the likes of Henry Cobb (age 83), Norman Foster (74), Moshe Safdie (71), and Elizabeth Diller (just 55), to design the $500 million National Museum of African-American History and Culture, in Washington, D.C.