Vermont’s Shelburne Museum Is the Latest Institution to Cut Ties With David Adjaye, Following Allegations Against the Architect

David Adjaye with Genesis at the Miami Beach Convention Center in 2011 in Miami Beach, Florida. Photo by Alexander Tamargo/Getty Images for Design Miami.

In May, Vermont’s Shelburne Museum tapped the London, New York, and Accra, Ghana, architecture firm Adjaye Associates to design its new Perry Center for Native American Art. But following serious allegations of misconduct against founder and principle architect David Adjaye, the museum will find a new architect to spearhead the project.

Three former employees accused Adjaye, 57, of sexual harassment and sexual assault. He has denied the allegations, describing the sexual encounters as consensual, but apologizing that the relationships “blurred the boundaries between my professional and personal lives.” (Adjaye married Ashley Shaw-Scott in 2014.)

“The recent allegations of sexual misconduct leveled against David Adjaye, and his admission of inappropriate behavior, are incompatible with our mission and values, which left the museum with no alternative but to immediately sever ties with the architect and his firm,” Thomas Denenberg, the museum’s director and CEO, said in a statement. “We remain committed to moving forward with the project and the many other partners and collaborators who have been involved since its conceptualization.”

Inspired by Shelburne Museum founder Electra Havemeyer Webb’s early interest in Indigenous art, the center is planned to be the biggest expansion for the institution since its opening in 1947, offering Tribal members and scholars the opportunity to engage with and study its collection of Native American art and artifacts.

Maker formerly known [Haak’u (Acoma Pueblo)], Polychrome Water Jar (ca. 1880–90), detail. Perry Collection of Native American Arts. Photo courtesy of the Shelburne Museum, Shelburne, Vermont.

Maker formerly known [Haak’u (Acoma Pueblo)], Polychrome Water Jar (ca. 1880–90), detail. Perry Collection of Native American Arts. Photo courtesy of the Shelburne Museum, Shelburne, Vermont.

“Our team is inspired by the potential of the Perry Center to not only enhance Shelburne Museum as a destination for education, but also to amplify and empower the Indigenous communities represented by the collection and to reconceptualize the role of a museum facility in the 21st century,” Adjaye said a statement upon being named as the center’s architect. “We intend to cultivate opportunities for transformation, storytelling, and cross-cultural dialogue, ensuring the Perry Center contributes to the unique eclecticism and mission of Shelburne Museum.”

The $12.6 million Shelburne Museum project was set to feature a sustainable design for a 9,750-square-foot pavilion. The art and history museum boasts a 45-acre campus that is home to 39 buildings and 22 gardens, with a collection of over 100,000 objects.

As of press time, Adjaye Associates had not responded to request for comment about the firm’s removal from the project.

A rendering of David Adjaye's now-cancelled design for London's Holocaust Memorial and Learning Center. Image courtesy Adjaye Associates and U.K. Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government.

A rendering of David Adjaye’s now-cancelled design for London’s Holocaust Memorial and Learning Center. Image courtesy Adjaye Associates and U.K. Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government.

Other institutions have already cut ties with Adjaye, including 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, where members of Adjaye’s New York office will shepherd the project to completion with Cooper Robertson, the architect of record.

New Jersey’s Princeton University Art Museum will complete work on its new Adjaye-designed building, slated to open next year, but museum director James Steward told the New York Times that “the accusations [are] enormously troubling” and “it’s fair to say that most of our work with Adjaye is behind us.”

The deCordova Sculpture Park and Museum in Lincoln, Massachusetts, has also cancelled plans to display at Adjaye sculpture this coming fall, and the architect has stepped down as architectural advisor to the mayor of London and trustee of the city’s Serpentine Galleries.

View of main entrance and courtyard garden © Adjaye Associates.

View of main entrance and courtyard garden of the Edo Museum of West African Art (EMOWAA) in Benin City, Nigeria. Image ©Adjaye Associates.

The National Museums Liverpool, where Adjaye is set to oversee the redevelopment of the International Slavery Museum and Maritime Museum, told Museums Journal it “take[s] the allegations described very seriously” but could not yet comment on the status of the project.

Several forthcoming Adjaye projects have yet to issue statements regarding his involvement, including the Kiran Nadar Museum of Art in Delhi, which is currently under construction; the National Cathedral of Ghana in Accra; and the Edo Museum of West African Art in Benin City, Nigeria, which named Adjaye as architect in 2019.

Adjaye Associates has already completed a number of high-profile art world projects, including the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C.; the Museum of Contemporary Art in Denver; and the Sugar Hill Children’s Museum of Art and Storytelling in Harlem.

 

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