Knoll Inspiration: In Conversation with David Adjaye
This post was originally published on Knoll Inspiration in 2015.
David Adjaye, the internationally acclaimed architect and designer, has designed his first collection of textiles in collaboration with Dorothy Cosonas, Creative Director for KnollTextiles. The Adjaye Collection debuted at NeoCon in June, 2015 where it received numerous accolades and awards. The collection displays Adjaye’s unique perspective on geometric and organic systems, translated through varied weave structures and print techniques, inspired by African geography, nature and culture, as well as objects and textiles from the permanent collection of the Cooper-Hewitt Smithsonian Design Museum.
The textiles bear the names of some of the continent’s great metropolises—Meroe, Kampala, Djenne, Aswan, Lagos, Cairo, Kumasi, Dakar and Harare—helping to counteract "stereotypical ethnographic images" through a formal display of the Sub-Sahara’s diverse craft-based traditions. Adjaye spoke with Knoll from London about the process and inspiration behind the collection.
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KNOLL INSPIRATION: What did you hope to explore through textiles that you might not be able to with architecture or furniture?
David Adjaye: I’ve become increasingly interested in smaller‐scale design because of the way that the lead time allows to me test out new ideas with some immediacy. It’s a great contrast to my architectural work, which unfolds across many years. Furniture also has an immediacy relative to the buildings, but the engineering is similarly intense. Working with textiles was therefore quite liberating. I could think about rhythm, geometry and form, completely uninhibited by the structural challenges of designing in three‐dimensions.
When looking at the Cooper‐Hewitt archive for inspiration, how did you approach the materials?
When given the opportunity to explore the Cooper‐Hewitt’s collection, I was immediately drawn to its collection of West African textiles, as the diverse techniques and abstractions associated with these works have long been a source of inspiration for me, both personally and for my work.
Indeed, these textiles are not simple artifacts of a cultural past, but in fact material representations of the significant changes and ruptures in the daily lives of their crafters. The textures and patterns found in the collection have powerful effects on perception in ways that alter our relationship with space and surroundings. Through the combination of color, scale and repeated geometries, these textiles convey depth and partition space in very specific ways. These techniques have had palpable influence on my work, from the façade designs of Rivington Place in London and The Francis Gregory Library in Washington D.C. to the use of color as a tool for space demarcation in the Stephen Lawrence Centre in London.
As a collaborative enterprise, how did you and Dorothy Cosonas work together to realize this collection?
Dorothy brings an incredible lineage in textile design—she immediately knew what would work and how we could achieve what we wanted. She is an extraordinary creative talent. Her openness to my approach and interest in the wider discourse of both my work and this specific textile range, enabled me to situate the project within my oeuvre, so that the design process felt quite fluid and like an extension of my practice more broadly.
How do you see these patterns and designs functioning within an interior space?
I am quite open minded about how the designs might be used, although the references to geometry and form would suggest a use or function that has a spatial—or three‐dimensional—resonance.
With Lagos, you looked to the irregular, imperfect traits associated with hand-woven textiles from the Cooper-Hewitt, whereas with Aswan, digital printing technology was used to explore new possibilities within textiles. Can you talk about the contrasting impulse to push into the future and revisit the past?
It is not really a contrasting impulse—it is all part of a continuum. It is a narrative which is derived from the past and enables us to make sense of the contemporary. This notion of the evolving nature of cultural narratives is incredibly important in my work more generally, for it is my desire never to return to any one period, but always to move forward through a process of integration: that is, the unifying, emerging and recombining of seemingly disparate historical legacies to craft a modernity that acknowledges them all as part of a single, inerasable whole.
Learn more about David Adjaye's collaboration with Knoll on the Washington Collection.