David Adjaye: “People Are Overly Obsessed With The Visual In Architecture”

The British architect and his musician brother have a released a collaborative album.

Some buildings are just four walls and a roof, but when they’re the work of British-Ghanian architect David Adjaye, they’re masterful compositions of light, materials, and scale that ultimately speak to “atmosphere as an emotional space for human beings,” as he once said.


One underutilized sense that contributes deeply to the overall effect of architecture is sound, Adjaye argues.

“I think people are overly obsessed with the visual in architecture,” Adjaye says in a video produced by The Spaces about the album he recently released with his brother Peter, a DJ who goes by AJ Kwame. “For me, it’s not really about the visual markers, but the way it ‘lifts up’ people. I think that’s a multi-sensorial experience.”

The songs–which are instrumental–represent Peter’s interpretation to David’s designs. For example, when David gave Peter a drawing of the Asymmetric Chamber, a 2003 installation, Peter “thought about the sounds that would make that space come alive in terms of the materials.” Since the structure was made from wood, he used a koto, a wooden Japanese instrument, in the piece. For the Dirty House, which is austere on the outside but light and bright inside, Peter began the track with brooding sounds before transitioning to a disco beat.

“I was inspired by the actual building and the aesthetics and the reasoning behind the building and the music tries to have a duality to it,” Peter says in the video.

While architects have sometimes turned to music and acoustics as inspiration (i.e. Le Corbusier’s jazz obsession and Steven Holl’s Architectonics of Music), as a way to design for accessibility, to diversify the profession, Peter and David’s collaboration shows how the very close relationship between a musician and an architect can yield more expressive buildings.

“Hearing a musician or composer play back what they think they’re seeing or feeling is powerful feedback for an architect receive,” Adjaye says.


Up next for the brothers? Perhaps a composition based on the National Museum of African American History and Culture, which is scheduled to open this September.

Find “Dialogues: Music for Architecture” at

[Photos: via Vinyl Factory]


About the author

Diana Budds is a New York–based writer covering design and the built environment.