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Adulated Adjaye: Acclaimed in DC, Under-the-Radar in NYC (with video) UPDATED

While there’s been widespread critical acclaim for David Adjaye‘s $540-million (including installation of displays) National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington (opening Saturday), few New Yorkers have heard of, let alone visited, his $84.7-million, 13-story Sugar Hill Project, commissioned by Broadway Housing Communities in Harlem:

Photos by Lee Rosenbaum

Photo by Lee Rosenbaum

I toured the project about a year ago, when its ambitious Children’s Museum of Art & Storytelling was about to open, and got to chat with the architect, whom you’ll see in my CultureGrrl Video, below:


David Adjaye

Dark and forbidding from a distance, the Sugar Hill Project, at the intersection of the largely African-American community of Harlem and the predominantly Latino community of Washington Heights, becomes more visually engaging as you move in closer, to admire Adjaye’s characteristically textured façade—this one in corrugated concrete panels embossed with rose patterns:

Photo by Lee Rosenbaum

My visit to the Cooper Hewitt’s recent show of African textiles chosen from its permanent collection—David Adjaye Selects—made me aware of how his buildings’ textures evoke the patterns of those textiles, which “are rich sources of inspiration for my design work,” as he wrote in his introduction to that show. In his description of the NMAAHC, he says the exterior’s “ornamental bronze lattice…is a historical reference to African-American craftsmanship.”



As with the NMAAHC, angled planes enliven Sugar Hill’s exterior, giving it a syncopated feel:


The low-income residential building has an attractive terrace:


…but unnecessarily dreary hallways:

Photo by Lee Rosenbaum

Apartments are sunlit and decently appointed, with quirky, differently sized windows:


The mixed-use facility includes an engaging preschool and an ambitious children’s museum, to be used by both the students and the general community.

Here’s a classroom:

Photo by Lee Rosenbaum

Photo by Lee Rosenbaum

Below is my CultureGrrl Video, shot about a year ago, in which Adjaye discusses his work for Sugar Hill and Lauren Haynes, associate curator of the Studio Museum in Harlem, takes me through the children’s museum’s inaugural exhibition (recently closed), which was drawn from her institution’s permanent collection. (The Studio Museum is soon to add another David Adjaye building to Harlem’s cityscape.)

UPDATE: It looks like Adjaye recently returned to his Sugar Hill Project, with an important visitor:

an ArtsJournal blog