Interview: David Adjaye, architect

British architect and artist David Adjaye was in Riga June 6 and 7 to present his proposed designs for a new Latvian Museum of Contemporary Art. Adjaye is one of a clutch of international architects competing for the €30m commission.

LSM met Adjaye at his hotel to find out how the presentation went, how the competition will develop and perhaps most interestingly of all, his response to the cultural and architectural stimuli that Riga provides.

He began with praise for the selection process being used to find a suitable design for the new museum.

"This is the first time I've been in a very open, democratic process where all the invited architects and designers are presenting their work to the public... everyone got to see everyone's work, which is really unusual.

"It is the most unusual, open competition I've done," Adjaye says, praising the transparent nature of the decision-making.

On Riga itself, Adjaye had some interesting and penetrating observations, particularly given his relatively short acquaintance with the city.

"You get the feeling it's a very proud city, proud of its heritage," Adjaye says, stressing that research must be "on the ground" not just via the internet.

"You have to find a way to quickly acclimate. You can never fully get it. I usually say that at the end of a project you really understand where you are working. Before - and architects are really good at it - you have to feel the place as much as you can through other people."

"It's a city that has understood how architecture can display its wealth but also has a very strong heritage that comes from a basic understanding about the dwelling in this Baltic region. It comes from a slightly fairytale, rural DNA, but it's also a city and has an architecture that a lot of other cities have lost. It is is completely compelling and striking."

He expresses particular admiration for Latvia's "timber heritage" and the wooden architecture of districts such as Agenskalns and the Kalnciema quarter and says part of the fascination of Latvia is that it "has a picturesque quality but also a robust quality".

He also provides a timely reminder that architecture these days is no longer about the so-called "Bilbao effect" and that having shaken off the dominance of that landmark project, architects are exploring more subtle and varied ways of expressing their art.

Later in the interview, David reflects on his path into architecture via the contemporary art world.

There's lots more besides, so listen to the full interview with David Adjaye below (which includes occasional interjections from David's assistants).

David Adjaye, architect and artist

    You can read more about Adjaye and his previous projects at his official website

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