The Masterful Lighting Of Architect David Adjaye

The biggest exhibition of the British architect’s work is on display in Munich.


David Adjaye is one of architecture’s leading lights. From luxury houses to museums, master plans, and even furniture, he is a master of context who draws upon art, history, and geography for his inspiration.


His expertise is on display in “Form, Heft, Material,” the largest-ever survey of the Tanzania-born British architect’s work, now at Munich’s Haus der Kunst. More than 45 of Adjaye’s completed and ongoing works are presented through drawings, models, sketches, and films, along with some original material from his research on African architecture.

Oflection (Landscape), Stephen Lawrence Centre London, 2007Lyndon Douglas

Adjaye is known for his thoughtful approach to a structure’s context, both to the physical world and to history and culture. Though often foreboding from the exterior, his works are flooded with light, often filtered in from above. They are responsive to the climate: his northern projects tend to be flooded with direct sun, while his designs for hotter regions make use of screens and double membranes to shade the interior from glare and heat.

On display in Munich are some of Adjaye’s best-known works, like his sky-lit Elektra House in London, alongside research projects like his 2008 Europolis, a vision of what the capital cities of Europe would look like compressed into one entity. Within these works, you can see the magnetism of his designs, especially his careful manipulation of light and the contrast between industrial-looking facades and peaceful interiors.

This is a prime moment to reexamine Adjaye’s practice. Sugar Hill, his affordable housing, preschool, and children’s museum development in upper Manhattan, was heralded as a landmark for affordable housing design when it opened last year (though some derided it as a fortress). His National Museum of African American History and Culture, part of the Smithsonian Institution, is scheduled to open next year.

The exhibition is on display at Haus der Kunst in Munich until May 31.

About the author

Shaunacy Ferro is a Brooklyn-based writer covering architecture, urban design and the sciences. She's on a lifelong quest for the perfect donut