Starchitect David Adjaye ‘steps back’ from major roles amid sexual misconduct allegations

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Three female former employees of Sir David Adjaye have accused the renowned architect of sexual misconduct, emotional abuse and harmful employment practice, the Financial Times (FT) reports.

Although he rejects the allegations against him, Adjaye announced on Tuesday that he would step back from a number of major roles and trusteeships. This includes his work as an architectural adviser to Sadiq Khan, the mayor of London. His work on a new British Holocaust memorial has also been suspended, the New York Times reported.

In a statement issued to the Architects’ Journal, a spokesperson for Adjaye said the architect was stepping back from his most public-facing work so the allegations against him do “not become a distraction”.

According to the FT article, the women, who worked for Adjaye between 2018 and 2019, “felt compelled to come forward about their experiences in order to prevent other women from encountering similar abuse and to make public the architect’s private behaviour”.

The British-Ghanian architect has denied each of the claims, stating, via his lawyer, that the women have “their own grievances” against him. Adjaye said in a statement to the FT: “I absolutely reject any claims of sexual misconduct, abuse, or criminal wrongdoing. These allegations are untrue, distressing for me and my family and run counter to everything I stand for.”

However, Adjaye did acknowledge that he had started relationships with his employees. “I am ashamed to say that I entered into relationships, which, though entirely consensual, blurred the boundaries between my professional and personal lives,” he said in the statement. “I am deeply sorry. To restore trust and accountability, I will be immediately seeking professional help in order to learn from these mistakes to ensure that they never happen again.”

Adjaye’s firm, Adjaye Associates, has designed—or is in the process of designing—a host of major international art galleries, museums, and heritage sites. They include the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington DC and the Museum of Contemporary Art Denver, both in the US. His firm is also in the process of working on the UK’s new Holocaust memorial, which is due to be located next to the UK’s Houses of Parliament. Additionally, Adjaye Associates is currently building Ghana’s national cathedral in the country’s capital, Accra, as well as the Edo Museum of West African Art, which will be built in Benin City, Nigeria. Adjaye was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II in 2017 and is a trustee of the Serpentine Gallery in London as of December 2016.

The FT investigation details how Adjaye allegedly engaged in behaviour ranging from unwanted and aggressive sexual advances to sexual harassment and sexual assault towards the three women, who have not been named by the FT; their names are instead given as Gene, Maya and Dunia. The women are all Black, in their 40s and single mothers, and had social connections to Adjaye beyond the workplace, according to the publication. Each has stated that their financial security, mental health and career progression have been seriously impacted by Adjaye’s behaviour towards them.

The report centres around three incidents, the first of which dates back to September 2018, and allegedly took place in the bedroom of the corporate apartment Adjaye used in Accra, Ghana. After a dinner held under a professional aegis, Adjaye invited the two women named as Maya and Gene back to the apartment before allegedly making unwanted sexual advances on each of them. Adjaye’s lawyer says the architect “strongly denies making any sexual advances towards” them and “categorically denies forcing [Maya] to enter his bedroom and sexually assaulting her”, he told the FT. He also cited “extremely cordial” text messages over the following weeks and months between Adjaye, Maya and Gene, which he said was “evidence of the positive relationship between the two employees and their boss”.

The article also details how, in mid-2019, in a disabled toilet in an airport in South Africa, Adjaye attempted to sexually assault Maya again. Maya attempted to report Adjaye to the police in Ghana without success as “they lacked jurisdiction for a criminal allegation in another country”, and in South Africa in September 2021. The South African police authority acknowledged Maya’s complaint to the FT.

Adjaye’s lawyer told the FT that the architect did not “engage in sexual activity with her during this encounter” and denies the allegation “in the strongest possible terms”. His lawyer added that “this allegation was framed well after the event in order to extract a payment”.

Both women were later dismissed by Adjaye; Gene was ousted in late 2019, four months after the apartment incident. In January 2020, eight months after the bathroom incident, Maya also had her employment terminated without notice. Adjaye’s lawyer told the FT that they were dismissed “due to concerns about their conduct and capabilities, which were raised by other employees”.

The article also details how, in a separate incident at the Royal Academy in London in January 2019, Adjaye made a forceful sexual advance on another woman, named as Dunia, who later became his employee. Adjaye then allegedly engaged in a campaign of coercive control against Dunia once he was her employer, according to the article. The FT article states: “Over the following months [after the Royal Academy incident], she said that she endured a series of controlling and emotionally abusive sexual encounters with him.”

The FT report also states that Adjaye made remarks on Dunia’s skin tone as a way of undermining her, telling the newspaper he told her she was not “Black enough” to understand his practice. He would touch her hair to ensure it was real and she was not wearing extensions. “He described Black women as ‘low-hanging fruit’, meaning they were ‘easy, cheap — like we are sitting waiting to be picked’,” the article quotes Dunia as saying.

Dunia claims to have sent a legal letter to Adjaye’s firm in February 2022 accusing him of sexual misconduct, which was rebutted on the basis that the relationship was consensual. Adjaye’s lawyer told the FT that Adjaye had kissed Dunia at the Royal Academy but “categorically denies” that her version of events is correct or that “he exhibited abusive and controlling behaviour towards [her]”.

The FT sought to corroborate each of the women’s accounts by acquiring contemporaneous emails, text messages and other documents, as well as interviewing 13 former employees of Adjaye. Interviews were also conducted with friends and family members who were used as confidants at the time of the alleged incidents.

Josh Spero, the co-author of the FT article, tells The Art Newspaper: “We’ve worked on this story for a year. It’s been a long process. But this is not the end of the story for us. We’re carrying on speaking to people, and we’re still interested in hearing from anyone else who might have a relevant story to tell us.”

David Adjaye did not respond to a request for comment from The Art Newspaper.

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