On the 1st of February, The Design Museum opened its doors for viewers to experience a world in seven projects by British-Ghanaian architect Sir David Adjaye. The varying pieces explore the role of monuments and memorials in the 21st century. From the Yoruba sculpture that inspired the form of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History to a room full of Asante umbrellas, dedicated to the National Cathedral of Ghana. Culture is displayed at the centre of the exhibition to demonstrate how Adjaye’s design process uses aspects of anthropology, history and sociology to investigate form and purpose.
In this exhibition, celebrated architect Sir David Adjaye OBE will examine the idea of the monument and present his thinking on how architecture and form are used as storytelling devices. The National Cathedral of Ghana will have a ‘canopy like’ roof influenced by Ghanaian umbrellas, the Baoman ceremonial canopy and traditional tabernacle shelters – combining motifs from Christianity with Kingship and Western African tribal traditions.
Monuments are a record of who we are and are deeply ingrained in our psyche as a way of memorialising our triumphs and failures. However, the form that monuments take, and the way they are experienced, is constantly changing. This exhibition (open until the 5th of May) shows that contemporary monuments are dynamic and complex – more than a collection of finite, static objects. Speaking on the inspiration behind the exhibition on collective memory and monuments, Sir Adjaye explains “it wasn’t something that dropped in my mind, but over the last 20 years of practice I’ve been increasingly pulled towards institutions or new civil society organizations that have been very much interested in the notion of how we remember as a society. How do we think about how that memory works? Is it in the digital world? How does architecture play a role? and I think you only make a better future if you question the past.”
Explaining the significance of monuments in modern-day society, Sir Adjaye says: “The monument is no longer a representation, it is an experience of time and place that is available to everyone. Whether it’s for a nation, a race, a community, or a person, it is really used as a device to talk about the many things facing people across the planet. Democratisation does not mean that monuments cease to be relevant; it requires the monument to be transformed, so that it has an inbuilt openness and can be approached and understood from many points of view.”
Highlights of the exhibition include a full-scale section of the Sclera Pavilion for London Design Festival 2008, a replica library area from the Gwangju River Reading Room in South Korea, as well as inspiration materials including a sculpture by the early 20th-century Yoruba artist Olowe of Ise.
Get tickets to Making Memory here
Words by Aisha Ayoade