Liverpool’s International Slavery Museum Becomes the Latest Institution to Cut Ties With Disgraced Starchitect David Adjaye

The major $72 million redevelopment will still be constructed according to the architect's designs.

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

Liverpool’s International Slavery Museum is the latest cultural institution to cut ties with Adjaye Associates, more than a month after the Financial Times reported on serious accusations of sexual misconduct against its founder, David Adjaye. The museum will nonetheless forge ahead with his designs for its £57 million ($72 million) redevelopment project, hiring another firm to see them to completion.

It was also announced yesterday that Adjaye Associates have been dropped from “the Line,” a new linear city currently being built in Saudi Arabia as part of the multibillion-dollar mega-city known as Neom, according to Architect’s Journal.

National Museums Liverpool made the decision to terminate its contract with Adjaye Associates for what appears to be pragmatic reasons, waiting first to seek legal advice and get the opinion of its board, according to a recent report in the FT. “We felt there were some risks in terms of continuing our contract,” said director Laura Pye.

Many other museums rushed to distance themselves from Adjaye within days of the allegations coming to light on July 4, including the Africa Institute in Sharjah and the deCordova Sculpture Park and Museum in Lincoln, Massachusetts. The disgraced starchitect also pulled out of the U.K.’s Holocaust Memorial and Learning Centre and stepped down from other official roles, including as an advisor to London’s mayor, Sadiq Khan.

The split wasn’t always easy. Some institutions, like the Shelburne Museum in Vermont, were able to “disengage” completely from Adjaye, having only just announced him as the architect for its new Perry Center for Native American art in May. Others were much further along in their years-long, multimillion-dollar projects.

The Multnomah County Library in Portland, Oregon, chose a similar path, parting ways with Adjaye but continuing with the construction as planned, while the Princeton University Art Museum stressed that it finds the accusations “enormously troubling” but could only promise that “most of our work with Adjaye is behind us,” as “we have a responsibility to all the people involved in this project and all those who will benefit from it to see it to completion,” the museum’s director, James Steward, told the New York Times.

What sets the International Slavery Museum’s redevelopment apart from these examples is that the project is in a relatively early stage. Adjaye’s involvement was announced last July and National Museums Liverpool confirmed to Artnet News that construction has not yet begun. When asked why it has chosen to proceed with Adjaye’s designs despite the allegations, Pye told the FT, “I don’t consider them to be his designs, I consider them to be ours.” In an official press statement, the museum thanked Adjaye’s team for its work bringing the museum “to a developed design stage.”

Construction on the highly anticipated Studio Museum in Harlem, which began in 2018, has also recently recommenced, according to the site New York YIMBY. Its board chair Raymond J. McGuire told the New York Times in July that “the actions being alleged are counter to the founding principles and values of the Studio Museum,” but most of Adjaye’s design had already been built when the news broke.

The status of some of Adjaye Associates’ other projects remains unclear. These include the Kiran Nadar Museum of Art in Delhi, which is currently under construction, the National Cathedral of Ghana in Accra, the forthcoming Barbados Heritage District, and the Edo Museum of West African Art in Benin City, Nigeria, which named Adjaye as architect in 2019.

According to the FT‘s July report, multiple former employees accused Adjaye of sexual harassment and assault, of being controlling and emotionally abusive, and of establishing a toxic working environment. They said that these experiences had caused serious mental distress, financial difficulties, and hindered their career progression.

One of the women who spoke to the FT, Toni Isidore Smart (her name was first leaked to the media after Adjaye gave it to the Ghanaian government), spoke out again last week on Instagram. “I stand shoulder to shoulder in gratitude and strength with Maya and Dunia [pseudonyms] and all other survivors,” she wrote. “To have been believed, restored some of the time lost from my lifespan that Sir David Adjaye stole with his heinous acts against me.”

Adjaye has maintained that he “strongly reject[s]” the claims. In the FT‘s original report he admitted to entering “into relationships which though entirely consensual, blurred the boundaries between my professional and personal lives” and promised to seek professional help to learn from his mistakes.

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