The ‘Cult of David’: More Former Employees of David Adjaye Allege They Were Overworked and Underpaid

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More former employees have come forward with complaints against the acclaimed Ghanaian-British architect David Adjaye, who in July became the subject of numerous sexual misconduct allegations.

“It was trickle-down emotional abuse,” Ngozi Olojede, who worked for Adjaye’s firm remotely for less than a year beginning in June 2020, told Artnet News.

“David would yell at and berate the people he found responsible for executing his vision,” she said. “Only senior leadership would be directly bullied by him, but they would offload that anxiety on the rest of us. And they behaved the way they did because of the example that was given them by David—you set up the company, it’s your name on the door.”

Working at the London office of Adjaye Associates meant being immersed in a “culture of bullying, oppression, and fear” built around the “cult of David,” a former worker, speaking anonymously, told the . “There was a reverential tone [towards Adjaye]… It was very messianic.”

David Adjaye. Photo by Alexander Tamargo/Getty Images for Design Miami

David Adjaye. Photo by Alexander Tamargo/Getty Images for Design Miami.

That was similar to the experiences of Yee Foo Lai, who goes by Vincent, during his time at the company, from 2019 to 2022. In an Instagram post, he condemned Adjaye Associates’ “prevailing culture of idolizing the superstar figure as the sole contributor to the remarkable accomplishments, despite the collective efforts of the entire firm,” noting that the company refused for months to write a letter for his visa application describing his work on major projects.

“Being overworked and underpaid is expected in the field of architecture,” Olojede said. “But I felt that the amount I was learning started to get outweighed by the stress. I was so burnt out and so tired I just felt like I had to quit and rest.”

Those speaking up for better working conditions faced retaliation, Ewa Lenart, who had stints at the firm in 2014 and from 2017 to 2018, wrote in a now-private Instagram post. Complaints led to “disciplinary meetings” with leadership, being called “‘confrontational,’ and…‘unacceptable behavior’ was punished.”

Negative feedback for Adjaye Associates on Glassdoor, an anonymous review site for business employees, was even more explicit. Posts include complaints of “chaos in work structure” and that “management is inhumane, toxic, racist.…Don’t expect to learn anything new, get sleep, or get paid.”

Former employees have also described becoming disillusioned by their experiences at Adjaye Associates, after they were initially been excited to work for such a famous and successful Black architect in a field dominated by white men.

“For many of us, Adjaye Associates was this kind of fantasy of diversity within architecture,” Sheila Lin, an Adjaye employee at the New York office from November 2020 to August 2022, wrote on Instagram, as reported by .

“Here I was at the start of my career about to work for arguably the most prominent Black architect, known for drawing on African art and histories to create spaces that exalted the Black experience,” Olojede wrote in a LinkedIn post. “It felt too good to be true—and it was.”

Within three months of her start date, Olojede was dreaming of her last day. When she was forced to work over the Labor Day holiday weekend while moving from South Africa to New York, even after she got sick, she realized “there was no respect for personal time or personal lives, or any acknowledgment that people were not born to work for this architecture firm.”

The facade of the Studio Museum Harlem. Courtesy Adjaye Associates.

The facade of the Studio Museum in Harlem. Courtesy Adjaye Associates.

Now, the firm’s future is in doubt, as many clients have opted to cut ties with the now-disgraced architect, including the National Museums Liverpool, Vermont’s Shelburne Museum, the U.K. Holocaust Memorial in London; the Africa Institute in Sharjah, U.A.E.; the Multnomah County Library in Portland, Oregon; and the Studio Museum in Harlem.

Up to half of the firm’s 110-person London office could soon lose their jobs, according to .

There has been no word to date on the status of three of the firm’s major upcoming projects: the Kiran Nadar Museum of Art in Delhi; the National Cathedral of Ghana in Accra; and the Edo Museum of West African Art in Benin City, Nigeria.

As of press time, Adjaye Associates had not responded to requests for comment from Artnet News.

 

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