David Adjaye, Architect Behind Some of the World’s Top Museum Projects, Steps Down From Roles Amid Allegations of Sexual Assault
The starchitect has backed away from various roles after ex-employees accused him of abuse as well as a toxic workplace.
The celebrated Ghanaian-British architect David Adjaye has been accused of misconduct by three former employees. The allegations include sexual harassment, sexual assault, and an abusive culture within his company.
Adjaye, who is 57, has received worldwide acclaim for this architectural designs, which include several major cultural institutions like the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture, Washington, and the Museum of Contemporary Art, Denver.
Further commissions that are not yet completed include the new National Cathedral of Ghana in Accra, the Edo Museum of West African Art in Benin City, and the U.K.’s forthcoming Holocaust memorial, the latter of which has now suspended in light of the allegations.
Artnet News reached out to the highly anticipated museum planned in Benin City for a comment, but did not hear back by publishing time. News of Adjaye’s alleged misbehavior was first reported by the Financial Times.
Since the news broke yesterday, July 4, Adjaye has stepped down from a number of roles and trusteeships, including as architectural adviser to the mayor of London, according to the New York Times. He also resigned as a trustee of the Serpentine Galleries in London. Artnet News has reached out to Adjaye Associates for further comment but did not heard back by publishing time.
The three women were not identified but, according to the Financial Times report, they are all Black women who were single mothers in their forties when the incidents took place. They had each known Adjaye before joining his company and were already well-established within their professional networks. The report emphasized that their experiences at Adjaye Associates had long-term impacts on their mental health, careers, and financial stability.
Two of the women, referred to with the pseudonyms “Maya” and “Gene,” joined Adjaye’s firm in 2018 to help establish a new office in Accra, for which they moved to Ghana with their children. They rarely received their salaries on time and endured lengthy waits for their work visas, forcing them into a precarious position. Adjaye has admitted to “cash flow issues” and “an initial lack of structure and process” in the office’s early days.
In September 2018, the pair met Adjaye for dinner and visited his apartment, where they alleged that he quickly maneuvered them into his bedroom and made persistent sexual passes, despite clear protestations from Gene, who left the room and waited outside. Maya, who stayed, claimed that she was under the influence of alcohol and that her recollections are hazy, but that she felt “overpowered, both emotionally and physically.” The next day she was given 4,000 Ghanaian cedi ($350) in cash by Adjaye without explanation.
A year later, in 2019, Maya said she was once again sexually assaulted after being pressured to enter a disabled bathroom at an airport in Johannesburg. Adjaye denies making any of the alleged sexual advances or payments.
Shortly afterwards, Maya said she attempted to report the alleged incident with Adjaye’s London office, with the Ghanaian police, and with Adjaye himself. In January 2020, she was abruptly dismissed and apparently received a cease and desist letter from Adjaye’s lawyers. A subsequent attempt to contact Adjaye with a request for financial compensation prompted a second cease and desist letter accusing her of extortion.
The third woman, dubbed “Dunia,” said she was sexually assaulted in 2019 after meeting Adjaye for a dinner to discuss business ideas. “He told me to be a good girl and be quiet,” she said. Wanting to prove her professional worth, she began working for him as a communications and marketing specialist until March 2020. This period was allegedly marked by controlling behaviour, emotional, and sexual abuse. Dunia felt persistently undermined, in some cases due to her race. She recalled being scared of crossing Adjaye due to his considerable power and influence. Adjaye has admitted to an ongoing sexual relationship with Dunia but rejected claims that it was abusive or coerced.
Several other former employees of Adjaye Associates also reported a toxic work culture, feeling “very taken advantage of” and described the company as a “personality cult.”
“I absolutely reject any claims of sexual misconduct, abuse, or criminal wrongdoing,” Adjaye told the Financial Times. “These allegations are untrue, distressing for me and my family and run counter to everything I stand for.”
“I am ashamed to say that I entered into relationships which though entirely consensual, blurred the boundaries between my professional and personal lives,” he added. “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.”
The three women’s accounts have been corroborated by the Financial Times, which reviewed written evidence including email exchanges, bank statements, and interviewed colleagues, family, and friends.
In addition to his major architectural projects, Adjaye is also known for his sculptural artworks, including work that is on view at the 2023 Venice Architecture Biennale and the Counterpublic triennial in St. Louis.
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