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The healing power of architecture:Sir David Adjaye

“Architecture comes into its own when it creates an alternative for us – an image of hope. There is a moment when architecture enters a place beyond a need. This can be described as a metaphysical moment to capture aspiration and hope.” Sir David Adjaye

It is mental health awareness week in the UK. Creating spaces that achieve good mental health has been a core focus of the 2020 conversation between planners, designers, architects and government bodies at a global scale. In fact, in such a time of unprecedented change, this conversation has a raised importance. Covid-19 and its devastating global impact has provoked crucial questions for the architectural profession. What is the responsibility of architecture in creating moments of solace? How can spaces be redemptive? These are some of the profound questions explored in a live webinar I attended: The Redemptive Power of Architecture A conversation between Sir David Adjaye OBE and James Steward.

In 2018, Sir David Adjaye OBE was selected to lead the process of designing a new home for the Princeton University Art Museum. In this webinar, Sir David together with Museum Director James Steward entered into a heavily illustrated and timely conversation about the power of architecture—its capacities to offer solace, to convey grace, to shape place, and even to improve the world.

Yellow Heart in window as symbol of grief during Covid-19 pandemic (source)

Sir David discussed the healing power of architecture and how it can provide an alternative to grief. I reflect on a recent expression of united grief through the glass panes of a window. A yellow illustrated heart, positioned in the window of a home dealing with grief from this pandemic. In this act, the window becomes a frame for a very deep and complex emotion, looking out to the world and seeking a united solace in the community.

He says, architecture has the power to invoke acts of remembrance. To remind those of the departed. Remembrance and memory are not far away when talking about the physical power of architecture in shaping responses to those ideas. Sir David gives a poignant example of the tombstone he designed for the late South African iconic musician and trumpeter Hugh Masekela.

The Hugh Masekela Memorial Pavilion designed by Sir David Adjaye (source)

About the Pavilion, Sir David Adjaye states: “I had to think of what it was that I was making for this incredible man. I had thoughts about the cultures of the continent and the way in which grief happens. I attempted to marshall the environment – the sun and create a narrative of space with a roof that evokes sunlight through the trees as you reflect on this African giant.”

The ability of architecture and the assembly of form to give us strength

How can architecture convey solace? These are words that the architectural profession understands very well but are rarely talked about. Architecture is frozen moments of solace and the human factor evidenced through materiality. Sir David Adjaye gives an example of a project he worked on with Olafur Eliasson. In this project, he focuses on a black horizon and reduces daylight to mm slots. This space expresses an amount of colour in a day reduced to a line and the unfolding of atmosphere. This is the ability of architecture and the assembly of form to give us strength.

Your black horizon designed by Sir David Adjaye and Olafur Eliasson (source)

In concluding, Sir David leaves us with a reflective position of the responsibility of architecture to overcome a world that is perpetually failing. He says, “if one is not continually facing architecture as failure or architecture fails because it can’t complete or fulfil; it reaches a place where it gives a glimpse into the future and allows the future to learn a lesson which can unfold into the future.”

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