When Sir David Adjaye says, “I don’t want to be defined by one typology. I don’t want a corporate office,” he certainly seems to mean it.
The architect is most renowned internationally for the beautifully resolved Museum of African American History in Washington, completed in 2017 and currently in the British news for the controversial Holocaust Memorial he has designed with Ron Arad, which Westminster Council finally voted against this Tuesday.
The President of Ghana will be breaking ground on his National Cathedral in Accra on 6 March; and a high-rise residential tower, 130 William, which pays slick homage to New York’s historic architecture is nearly completed in that city’s Financial District.
But this week, Adjaye was in Los Angeles, celebrating with local artist friends including Doug Aitken and Arthur Jaffa in a new pink paradise that is The Webster, the seventh outpost of a multi-brand store that first launched in Miami in 2009.
“It was Duro Olowu’s idea that I could work with the Webster team, and if Duro introduces you, then you know it’s probably right,” says Adjaye of the Nigerian-born fashion designer, a continual charming presence on London’s artistic scene.
The Webster’s creative director is Laure Heriard Dubreuil, a Frenchwoman every bit as chic as her name suggests. When she opened the Miami store, in an exquisitely restored Art Deco building in South Beach, it offered a mix of high and low – from Bottega Veneta and Celine to Nike and Superga – to a town where fashion had mostly been conceived as a Hervé Leger bandage dress.
There were spaces that could be cleared to accommodate glossy dinners and events, but in Los Angeles, she is playing an even newer retail game. Here, the store stripped of its clothes can become anything from a performance space to a gallery.
“It’s totally flexible, chameleon-like,” says Adjaye, “a space that can do many things. And Laure is going to programme it like that.” (This being LA, it’s also going to be the first place to stock the fashion line by Talullah Willis, daughter of Demi Moore and Bruce Willis.)
Adjaye has created an entire new structure at the corner of the Beverly Center, where Melrose and Sunset meet. “We took down a Hard Rock Café to do it,” says Adjaye, “and though it references the existing Beverly Center building, I had to give it my own identity.”
Adjaye’s addition is semi-cylindrical, and was cast in situ in dyed-through blushing pink concrete (think the dreaminess of the Bel Air Hotel and a Doris Day bedroom).
Inside, there is pink terrazzo and sections decorated with vintage wallpapers. The changing rooms are like director’s audition spaces. “There’s a long bench and a pivoting mirror, and you get up on a stage to try on the clothes,” says Adjaye. “It’s like a little theatre, it’s a bit of fun.” It’s already all over Instagram.
But fun changing rooms apart, Adjaye’s main move is the extraordinary entrance, where he took several thousands of its 11,000 sq ft floor plan to create a generous canopied space that includes an outdoor art installation. Here, beneath the shade of pink concrete, is a long screen for the presentation of digital artworks, with such low-pixel definition it renders them as abstractions of the original.
“Hollywood is all about high-definition, the super realistic. This is about the opposite, something more dreamy and unfocussed. In a way, it is a critique of LA.” Visitors can sit between a fountain he has installed on the street-side and the screen, with the noise of the water gently washing away the sound of traffic.
“It’s all about experience,” says Adjaye. It is also about a private company becoming a patron of public art. The first specially commissioned work, by Khalil Joseph, was launched at the event on 12 February.
Elsewhere in the city, Adjaye has several projects on the go: a house for significant art collector, an art institution and a community centre are among them. He might not be going to build a Holocaust Memorial in London, but he’s running riot everywhere else.
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