Dave Adjaye: Form, Heft, Material, edited by Okwui Enwezor and Zoë Ryan in consultation with Peter Allison; Yale University Press , April 2015, 296 pages, $55.
Wrapped in golden tracery, this nearly 300-page book showcases the sophistication and craftsmanship of the London-based architect David Adjaye. The book's material is drawn from an exhibition organized by the Art Institute of Chicago (where it's on view until January 3, 2016) and the Haus der Kunst in Munich (through May 31). The introduction, written by curators Zoë Ryan and Okwui Enwezor, defines two essential threads in Adjaye's work: a strong sense of artistry, materiality, and craft, as well as a methodology strongly rooted in the architect's cosmopolitan background as the son of a Ghanaian diplomat who moved the family around Africa and the Middle East. The book seems content to let the former speak for itself in five collections of renderings, drawings, and photography. Essays, interspersed throughout, unravel the latter, and reveal a thoughtful, grounded style. One core inquiry is not spoken but is omnipresent: what can an international, pluralistic, and mobile architect bring to the physical fact of architecture?
Chapters alternate between the essays—by curators, architects, and writers—and the project portfolios. At times, the transition from the exhibition overview to the rest of the text seems rushed, and readers may be perplexed by images that are small or appear out of sync. Yet the promise of the book's cover—a pattern taken from the cladding of Adjaye's National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC)—is delivered in over 175 color photographs and renderings, along with drawings and diagrams. From an early temporary pavilion—erected in both Manchester, England, and New York—to the igneous black metal of his Sugar Hill housing in Harlem, there's plenty to savor. However, it's the essays that explore the significance of Adjaye's diverse beginnings.

The first essay by Art Institute of Chicago architecture and design curator Ryan provides an overview of Adjaye's methodology and the trajectory of his work. Subsequent authors (including the architect) explore facets of his oeuvre: the social, political, and economic dimensions of his civic projects in London, the influence of his extensive photography of Africa, how he shapes urban space. The language can veer toward the academic, and sometimes a lack of illustration can be frustrating, but overall these works are insightful and clear. “Gestures of Affiliation,” written by Haus der Kunst director Enwezor, addresses two projects—the NMAAHC and the Cape Coast Slavery Museum—and how they are immersed in questions of social memory, memorialization, civic architecture, and African history. “Other Monumentalities” by Mabel O. Wilson, Columbia University associate professor of architecture, explores the NMAAHC within a broader history of race and American civic architecture.

David Adjaye's diverse past and sensitivity to the cultural, economic, and political aspects of a site and project exemplify the breadth of his work thus far. As his commissions grow in scale and prominence, it will remain that artistry—such as the NMAAHC's bronze-coated cast-aluminum facade and sweeping porches—sets him apart.