The architecture community responds to Adjaye sexual assault allegations

Public Response

The architecture community responds to Adjaye sexual assault allegations

A nighttime rendering of Adjaye Associates and Ron Arad Architects’ proposed U.K. Holocaust Memorial & Learning Center in London’s Victoria Tower Gardens. (Courtesy Adjaye Associates and UK Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government)

Following allegations of sexual assault and harassment by several former employees, which were made public in a Financial Times article last week, David Adjaye has stepped down and been removed from a number of projects he and his firm were working on. 

As AN reported last week, almost immediately after the FT story broke (which had been in the works for a year), Adjaye stepped down as a member of London mayor Sadiq Khan’s panel of design advocates, resigned as a member of the Serpentine Gallery’s board of trustees, and Adjaye Associates paused work on the London Holocaust Memorial & Learning Centre (which he has now stepped back from).

In a statement from Adjaye provided to AN, he said: “I absolutely reject any claims of sexual misconduct, abuse or criminal wrongdoing.” On July 7, three days after the initial investigation was published, FT reported that Adjaye had “disclosed private legal letters and the names of women he allegedly sexually abused to the government of Ghana as part of efforts to save his reputation.” Those named were then leaked to the Ghanaian press. The nonprofit Platform to Protect Whistleblowers in Africa had been working with the Whistleblowers and Journalists’ Safety International Center in Ghana to protect the whistleblowers. 

Other clients of Adjaye, and organizations he was associated with, have canceled projects or verbally showed concern over their association with the architect.

Adjaye Associates’ design of the Princeton University Art Museum will persist as the client’s work with the firm is largely complete (construction began two years ago and the project can continue under the supervision of executive architect Cooper Robertson). In Portland, Oregon, the East County Library was slated to proceed with the local architect and without Adjaye Associates prior to FT’s report (though the firm had still been widely associated with the project following a competition win), the client told FT.

The developer executing the waterfront masterplan that Adjaye Associates is working on in Cleveland, Bedrock, said that the firm is reevaluating whether it will continue to work with Adjaye on the project. Adjaye will be stepping away from a planned project in Chicago’s Old Town, developer Fern Hill said, and the de Cordova Sculpture Park and Museum in Massachusetts has placed a planned exhibition of Adjaye’s sculpture work on hold indefinitely. Adjaye Associates’ work on the International Slavery Museum and Maritime Museum, for whom National Museums Liverpool is the client, told the New York Times that it was taking the allegations seriously, but have not indicated that the project status has changed. A Rice University spokesperson said that the school might end its relationship with Adjaye Associates, who has been contracted to design a new student center. At Vermont’s Shelburne Museum, where Adjaye Associates is designing an expansion to house Native American art, the museum said that their work with Adjaye Associates is in early design stages and being reevaluated. The Africa Institute in Sharjah, United Arab Emirates has canceled the Adjaye Associates–designed campus announced in 2021. 

Outside of work with clients, the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) said that anyone who had been victim to violations of its code of conduct should report such matters so that the organization could carry out its own investigation. Adjaye won the RIBA Gold Medal in 2021. The U.K.’s Architects Registration Board also said that they would investigate any report of actions against its code, or of any architect “convicted of a criminal offence.”

The reaction against Adjaye has been strong, with many in the architecture community identifying the continual problem of starchitect men committing sexual assault or otherwise predatory actions in the workplace. In the Guardian, Observer architecture critic Rowan Moore made this point, arguing that the cult of worship in architecture originates in the classroom studio model. Power dynamics will exist in the workplace regardless; while competitive studio culture and unfair compensation contribute to the starchitect myth, and power associated with it, as Moore argues, it is not the only environment in which sexual misconduct occurs in the workplace. Let not the attention on Adjaye give the impression that it is only starchitects who act like this.

On Instagram, former Adjaye employee Ngozi Olojede detailed a highly disorganized workplace in Adjaye Associates’ New York office (working virtually during the pandemic), where Olojede said that employees were pressured to work long hours in a culture that Adjaye himself fostered. Olojede also said that Adjaye also “installed very white senior leadership,” and that Olojede had heard about a case of sexual assault Adjaye committed against an employee in South Africa prior to its recounting in FT. A few days later, another former Adjaye Associates employee, Ewa Lenart, described a similar culture of abuse and strict discipline for workers who “spoke up.”


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A post shared by Ewa Lenart (@lenartewa)

Olojede further, and crucially, noted that workplace protections for women in many African countries are lacking. As Adjaye Associates’ work in Ghana, on the National Cathedral, and in Nigeria, on the Edo Museum of West African Art, both continue to be ongoing, the discrepancies in workplace labor protections and the lack of similar public dismissal by clients cannot be overlooked. This is not to mention the firm’s association with NEOM, in which a liberal kickback against Adjaye’s actions would be unexpected.

As conversations over canceling projects already in-progress by Adjaye Associates continue (separate from any individual associates he has with nonprofits or public institutions), the importance of not reducing a firm’s work to its leader(ship) is ever-important. The work that has gone into these projects have come from the employees that have worked incredibly long hours, and are, at least in the U.S., seen-through by the labor of executive architects and architects of record, and ultimately, the construction workers that install the projects. This is not to say that the work of Adjaye Associates (especially if it retains that name) will not be left untarnished, but that the architectural work attributed to Adjaye was never fully his to begin with.

AN will continue to monitor the story.