Dezeen Magazine

David Adjaye aims to dispel stereotypical images of Africa through textile designs

NeoCon 2015:David Adjaye has created a range of African-inspired textiles for Knoll, in addition to curating a related exhibition at the Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian Design Museum.

Top image: Installation view of David Adjaye Selects. Photograph by Allison Hale, courtesy of Cooper Hewitt. This image: Upholstery by David Adjaye for Knoll

The Tanzanian-born British architect unveiled his debut textile line for US manufacturer Knoll, called The Adjaye Collection, at the NeoCon commercial interior design trade show in Chicago last week.

Meroe upholstery by David Adjaye for Knoll

It features nine patterns based on traditional African motifs, most of which were influenced by pieces in the Cooper Hewitt's permanent collections.

Harare wallcovering by David Adjaye for Knoll

The range of fabrics – which will officially launch in September – consists of upholstery, drapery, and wall coverings.

The preview of the collection coincides with an exhibition that opened on Friday at the New York design museum. The show, called David Adjaye Selects, features 14 pieces chosen by the architect from the institution's trove of Central and West African textiles.

Kampala upholstery by David Adjaye for Knoll

"I loved this idea of using textiles as way to dispel stereotypical images of the continent," said Adjaye. "That is the narrative that runs through both the exhibition and the collection."

Kumasi drapery by David Adjaye for Knoll

"I was very inspired by the wide array of geometry, textures and forms I found in museum's collection of African textiles," he added.

"It struck me that together they really told the story of the diversity of these regional traditions of craftsmanship."

Aswan upholstery by David Adjaye for Knoll

For the Knoll line of fabrics, Adjaye collaborated with the company's creative director, Dorothy Cosonas. The architect named each pattern after a "cherished" place in Africa.

Dakar drapery by David Adjaye for Knoll

The Cairo pattern features pyramidal line drawings, while the Aswan pattern references the colourful kente cloth worn by an ethnic group in Ghana.

The Djenne pattern – named after an urban area in Mali – takes its cue from men's caps made of woven raffia and wool.

Djenne upholstery by David Adjaye for Knoll

"I've become increasingly interested in smaller-scale design because of the way that the lead time allows me test out new ideas with some immediacy," said Adjaye. "It's a great contrast to my architectural work, which unfolds across many years."

Adire wrapper from Gambia. Photograph by Matt Flynn

In recent years, the architect has created a variety of products, including chairs and a coffee table for Knoll, a stool for Standseven, and a seating range for Moroso. There are similarities between designing buildings and products, he noted.

"They are both about creating atmosphere and curating space, but there is a very different thought process and approach to each," Adjaye said.

"When designing textiles, I'm very much thinking about an intimate emotional response, whereas in designing architecture it is much more about large-scale relationships between histories, cultures and geographies."

Dyula wrapper from the Ivory Coast. Photograph by Matt Flynn

Adjaye currently has a number of architectural projects underway around the globe, including the Smithsonian's new National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington DC. The building, which features a bronze mesh cladding designed as a reference to historic guild work by black craftsmen in the American South, is scheduled to open next year.

Adjaye is also rumoured to be a front runner for the design of the Obama Presidential Library in Chicago.

Woman's wrapper from Nigeria. Photograph by Matt Flynn

"David's innovative and bold design concepts have been making waves in the architecture community and worldwide," said Cooper-Hewitt director Caroline Baumann in a statement.

The museum started working with Adjaye two years ago on the textiles show.

Kente prestige cloth from Ghana. Photograph by Matt Flynn

"David brings his unique vision and perspective to the Selects exhibition and has chosen extraordinary West and Central African pieces from our textile holdings, the most culturally diverse collection at the museum," said Cooper-Hewitt.

Adinkra wrapper from Ghana. Photograph by Matt Flynn

According to the museum, Adjaye's childhood in Africa – combined with his visits to all of the continent's 54 nations as an adult – makes him keenly attuned to "the importance of textiles in the visual culture of Africa, whose forms and patterns are often reflected in his buildings."

Bògòlanfini woman’s wrapper from Mali. Photograph by Matt Flynn

The exhibition is the 12th instalment of a series in which prominent designers, artists and architects "are invited to mine and interpret the museum's collection".

Past guest curators include Maira Kalman, IDEO and Hella Jongerius.

Man’s hat from Cameroon. Photograph by Matt Flynn

David Adjaye Selects runs until 14 February 2016.

The museum, which recently underwent an extensive renovation, is staging the show in a refurbished gallery on its first floor.