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tv   Talk to Al Jazeera  Al Jazeera  March 3, 2016 5:30pm-6:01pm EST

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traded. popularity may be declining in hong kong, but other markets across asia are still going strong, with vietnam the largest and still growing the address for our website and you can find all the news there. >> this week on talk to al jazeera, renowned architect david adjaye. he's designing the smithsonian's national museum of african american history and culture on the mall in washington, d.c. >> i think that what the world will see is that the african american story is not a footnote, but probably the lens to really understand america, to this day. >> from a cancer treatment center in rwanda to an affordable housing project in new york, plus dozens of projects in development around
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the world, adjaye says he is trying to make architecture relevant. >> i hold the work up the highest standards. that's a given. but, for me, even the highest standards are irrelevant if it doesn't connect to this central issue of people, geography, and histories. >> born in tanzania to ghanaian parents, his multinational upbringing inspires his work as an architect. but he's has little in the way of formal training. >> when i did my research into how architecture was being taught at that time, and what the big voices were, i found that i just disagreed. because i felt that the discussion had become very formal. had become about architects naval-gazing, in a way. >> adjaye's brother, who was hit with an illness that left him disabled, has inspired his creations. >> public space was, was curated, as it were, to literally use that word "curated" for able-bodied people. or for a sort of image of a certain citizenry. which i think maybe mattered several hundred years ago. but seemed grossly, just difficult for me. >> and now as a new father, he's
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obsessed with another design. >> the baby bjorn, which i've given [laughs] a lot of attention to. men have a lot of difficulty holding children [laughs]. >> i spoke to david adjaye in washington, d.c. >> there is a lot of racial tension in america right now. how do you integrate past, present, and future into your designs, like the one for the smithsonian's museum of african american history? >> it's amazing that architecture can start to negotiate some of these things. and i believe that for architecture to be emotionally relevant to people, that there has to be a connection and there has to be a relationship, that architecture cannot be autonomous. if it's not connected to the lives of people, the histories of people, i think there's a problem. >> you've got 400 years' worth of history that you have to put into this building? how do you how do you do that? how do you decide what story it is that you're going tell? >> well, i think that you look
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for important flash points in the story, that have a very powerful resonance. so, for instance, just looking back at the history, thinking about the great artistic periods of west africa. the yoruba were one of the great kingdoms of that time. and looking at what would have been iconographic to people of that time, or what would have been special, or the magical thing, the temples of that time. so, we try to imagine that. we looked at the agrarian past of slavery, and the architecture of slavery. and the architecture of slave houses. but we also looked at the work of slaves that were freed just after the emancipation. some of the kinda first industries that slaves went into was the army, of course. because that was part of lincoln's agenda. but it was the army, it was carpentry, and it was metal work. because they were actually trained to be part of the infrastructure. i wanted to look at that. because in a way i wanted to also talk about a history of building within the african american community. that was important that they weren't
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just, you know, crop sharers, or crop pickers. they were also people that were building and making america. and i wanted to speak to that. >> i was actually down walking around the property yesterday, and it's almost an inversion of a typical building. >> exactly. it sort of opens itself up. and it reveals itself. but it also kind of moves upward. but what it's doing is that it's referring to a few things. it's referring to washington's monument. the sort of obelisk in the center of the monumental sort of master plan of the core of washington. the pyramid at the top. it's an inversion of that pyramid. and it's exactly the same angel as that pyramid. so, visually they come into alignment, almost like two sort of planetary bodies. but also it's referring to a yoruba sculpture, which was about the column, the capitol columns of shrine houses. in a way i'm sort of speaking about an ancestral memory of something, and a contemporary memory of something. >> you said the spirit behind the design was praise. how do you design praise? >> praise is about a kind of
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understanding the nature of form, and the way in which form kind of makes us understand things that are upwardly uplifting, or things that make us inward. and i think form does do that. and i think we looked at thousands of images of people in the state of happiness, or state of praise. and ironically their hands were up in a v shape most of the time. or, their hands were halfway up in a v shape. but it was really interesting to us. it was across cultures, too. >> what about meaning behind the materials that you chose? >> yes. the materials were very important. i wanted to speak about permanence, but also about the way in which precious artifacts are celebrated in art. bronze was a very important material from the classical world, because it's the material that lasts through the ages. it lasts longer than us. it's an inert material that doesn't pass away. and i wanted to speak to that. because, also, the building is by the washington monument, which is a piece of art.
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and it's sort of sandwiched between that monument and the buildings. it's a building which is between sculpture and architecture. it's a sort of at a junction, a threshold. it's like a full-stop, which is neither one or the other, but signaling both sides. i wanted to also use a different material to the materials that are on the mall, which are predominantly stone. >> you won an international competition. >> yes. >> to build this building. >> yes. >> what was your pitch? >> the pitch was this is a building about praise. this is not a building about something that's a sorrow. it is a terrible story. but it also is a story of incredible resilience and hope. we said that we wanted to make a building that encapsulated that and moved forward. and it wasn't a building that was trying to just freeze any part of that story. >> it's a $500 million budget. it is the one edifice in america that is really going to be looked at as defining of african american history. so much wrapped into all of this. what were the emotions
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you were feeling when you realized you won? >> well, i think when we got the phone call, when i got the phone call, i couldn't quite believe it. i think my feet literally probably came off the ground. it was extraordinary, because as an architect, in a way, this is what we dream about. this is actually the thing we most love. and in architecture it's very difficult to get to that moment. you know, you do lots of commercial work, and things like that. but it's very, very rare that you have a moment where a charged, political and social opportunity occurs in architecture, and you have such a site. which can define a whole way, that really was, for me, the game changer. i suddenly realized, oh my god, this is, this is no longer a rehearsal. this is the real thing. >> the smithsonian defines its buildings as places where the world comes to learn about america. what is the world going to learn after moving through your museum? >> i think that what the world
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will see is that the african american story is not a footnote, but probably the lens to really understand america, to this day. i mean, i don't know about america in the future. but i think that the african american experience has been part of the commercial success of america. but also the extraordinary progress and modernity of america in terms of its laws, its understanding. that even though this has been seen as a bit of an evil, it's also been an extraordinary sort of refiner of an important, you know, the most important superpower in the world. the kind of leader of the world. to really show the world about how struggle can also create emancipations. and i think that that is central to what this building is trying to say. >> still ahead on talk to al jazeera. he was commissioned to design a pediatric cancer center. david adjaye talks about his work in rwanda, stay with us.
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>> i'm lisa fletcher and this is talk to al jazeera. my guest this week is the architect designing the national museum of african american history and culture, david adjaye. >> most architects spend years, and years pursuing a degree. you have one year of formal architectural training. what do you think... >> you did your research. busted! >> well, it's very interesting, though. what gave you the courage to just carve your own path like that? >> when i started, i was extremely scared about the whole
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thing. but i was also incredibly inspired by this thing. when i did my research into how architecture was being taught at that time, and what the big voices were, i found that i just disagreed. and i didn't have empathy with the discussion. because i felt that the discussion had become very formal. had become about architects naval-gazing, in a way. and kinda debating the style of something, versus the style of something else. i wanted to find a path that engaged more with what the world was, and what people were doing. so, i found that i had to kind of carve my own path. that's the path i took. >> when you were a boy living in ghana your brother emmanuel fell very ill. and you've said that was a real turning point for you. can you talk about how that not only shape do you personally and emotionally, but professionally? >> emmanuel sort of becoming mentally and physically handicapped was a dramatic moment in my family.
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but it was also a kind of moment of consciousness, i think, for a very young family. for me it was a consciousness about the fragility of life and the enjoyment of that. but also it awoken in me a consciousness about the built environment. because i was very much wanted to participate in looking after him. i was very close to him. and i wanted to kind of take him to school, and be part of it. whatever i could, et cetera. i was just increasingly appalled by the environments that i saw disability occupy. >> the inequality of public space? >> completely. that in a sense public space was curated, as it were, to literally use that word "curated," for able-bodied people. or for a sort of image of a certain citizenry. which i think maybe mattered several hundred years ago. but seemed grossly just difficult for me. and i found it problematic that, you know, architecture was about stairs, and hierarchy, and all these things.
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for me it needed to be about people. all walks of life, all their narratives, all their stories. and it needed to keep adding that story to the history of the world. because, in a way, literature records our lives, but architecture also does. >> you think that's one of the things that distinguishes you from most other architects, in that it's always, for you, about the people, and the geography, and the emotion. is it one of the reasons that you've rejected this idea of having a signature style on everything? >> yes. i think that that is the thing that people gravitate towards. yes, i hold the work up the highest standards. that's a given. but, for me, even the highest standards are irrelevant if it doesn't connect to this central issue of people, geography, and histories. >> you were born in tanzania. >> yes. >> you lived abroad until you were a teenager. what's your relationship with africa, and then how does that influence your work? >> i was lucky that my father
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was the first generation of diplomats from ghana. ghana was the first country to gain independence in the 20th century. i was lucky enough to be the kid that he wanted to take with him. so, we traveled a lot. but actually i thank my father each day for giving me that incredible exposure. because, you know, by the time i was 14, when i came to england i had a very kind of plural sense of the world, and all the kind of differences it had from different religions, cultures, spaces, climates, temperatures. it was all very clear. >> and you went back to africa as an adult. and you went to every country? >> i went to every country except somalia, because of the war. i'm still desperate to go to somalia. i wanted to go to every single country on my own. i just wanted to discover, i didn't quite backpack. i flew, and taxied, and did my own thing. but i never wanted to go formally to any of these countries. i wanted to discover it for
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myself. because, in a way, the continent is such a big thing. and it's always spoken about and referred to. and i certainly realize that even myself, who had been to the continent and came from the continent, probably only really knew about half a dozen countries intimately. and there are 54. so, i just wanted to kind of really, you know, when i say africa, i wanted to know what i meant by that. >> you are working on projects in africa. you have communities that are one foot in the rural, and one foot in the urban. absolutely. >> and it's so different from london, or from the united states. >> yeah. no, it's interesting. you know, that's the defining thing about africa. people don't disconnect from the rural to the city. you have both. and, in fact, your identities are enforced by that kind of dialectic of moving between these two worlds. but i actually find working in africa incredibly clear, because also the geography is very particular. it's almost stratified. and it's not complex geography. it's particular extreme geographies, from forest to deserts. but also the cultures that have evolved on those terrains are
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very precise. and it's one is able to really dive into them. so, i think that that, for me, is fertile ground for architecture. >> you just unveiled, in fact, designs for a children's' cancer hospital in rwanda. >> yes. when i was approached a few years ago by the charity that are putting this together. the ambassador to rwanda, eugene gasana, set up this foundation, and to start this project. and when he approached me, and i incredibly moved. but what was even more sad for me was that - i realized that we did the research and there was not a single cancer treatment center on the continent. there was not a single. >> on the continent? >> on the continent. that was astonishing. and actually shocking. so a children's cancer research center. you had to go outside of the continent to do it. and i was shocked by that. so, rwanda becomes very important because it's more or less the center of the continent. and it kind of allows an opportunity from east/west, north/south to kind of have a
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central place. i hope that this is the first of many. but also it's the first which is both a teacher. it's a training center, as well as a cancer hospital for children. and i wanted it to be very much a beacon. hospitals are incredible pieces of infrastructure. and they can just be just things that are there. usually not very pretty, hospitals. they're usually big, bulky, and quite ugly. but they're so important that we kind of forgive them their form. because they just have to be there. when a hospital is both functional and beautiful, it does a lot. it does a lot. because i totally believe that wellbeing is also about changing the state of mind of the person that needs to be cured. >> you made a name for yourself building in london's east end. for artists, for celebrities. but then you turned that success and used it to help the less fortunate. do you feel a moral obligation to use your talents to do good things in the world? >> i guess i'm just more fulfilled when i do.
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it's a personal passion that i think my mother taught me. and that's something that is in me. i think that the skills that one has are about the empowerment and the betterment of other people. because i think other peoples' empowerment and betterment makes a better world for me, and makes a better world for the people my children, and i can now say children, amazing. >> congratulations on that. have you ever had the opportunity, though, to see people experience your architecture for the first time? in a civic setting? like, in a library? in a poor section of town? >> oh yeah. >> what's that like? >> no, no, no. i'm the stalker of my own buildings. one of the few times you can use that word safely, i think. i'm usually, i think the first public building i built, which was the idea store library. i went and sat in the corner when it was opened. and there was a queue and these kids rushed in and just started using
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the building as though they kind of knew it. and one the biggest shock was seeing how the public is able to assimilate something that they feel very kind of excited and comfortable with. i was, like, this building has been in my head, it's been on drawing boards. they've never seen it. how do they know how to use this building so well? and that was really beautiful. and, of course, there's, you know, lots of things reasons for that. but then, you know, i started seeing people, when i'd go back i'd see people sort of meeting, having dates - being intimate, or being studious. or having arguments. and i don't know, when architecture's alive like that, it's, for me, the best. i mean, i kind of - i can practically well up, its kind of a bit weird. but i really find it very, very powerful and moving. >> you've created an affordable housing project in harlem. talk to me about sugar hill. >> sugar hill is really important to me, because it's my first large-scale housing project. that my first large-scale project for housing was for the homeless. those who have the least opportunity. it was about bringing design to this community, and not to patronize this community.
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not to demean or to say that they don't have the ability to understand you know, things that i would offer to the most elite person that i met. >> can an architectural project be transformative to a community? >> i believe that it always is. i think architecture's primary role is to be transformative. to shift the paradigm, and to emanate, i always say, to emanate new publics. meaning, to emanate a new nature in people. a building can change the way- a new library coming into a community that had nothing, that maybe just had, you know, pound stores, et cetera, and rundown spaces - will empower a young bunch of kids to hold their bags up high, to hold their books. to go into that place, and to want to study. if that building shows - is a beacon of something new, something that is forward-looking. it transforms. and it will empower the families around that community. it will empower the mothers, it will make them put their kids there. it does incredible things. and it's just this idea of making physical things that inspire. >> is it too dramatic to say it
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can inspire a social change? >> i think it inspires social change in a different way. that's such a strong statement for me. but i think it does inspire social change. i think that actually, no, let me just be absolutely upfront about it. i think architecture shapes the society that we have. our modernity shapes through architecture, ironically. and we sometimes undervalue it. we underplay it. and i think we underplay it to our own expense. because, really, it is the force that actually kind of makes the glue that sometimes helps society kind of understand things. it creates the porosities, or the hierarchies, or the connections. i mean, architecture can either create - reinforce elitism, or create egalitarianism. it can create opportunity, you know by how you celebrate places where the least have. to, you know, and i think these things affect, absolutely affect, the way in which we live in the world and the people that live in the world. >> just after the break, david adjaye's thoughts on being a new father and the
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project that he says is the best reflection of him. this is talk to al jazeera. more in a minute. >> these people have decided that today they will be arrested. >> i know that i'm being surveilled. >> people are not getting the care that they need. >> this is a crime against humanity. >> hands up... >> don't shoot. >> hands up... >> don't shoot. >> what do we want? >> justice. >> when do we want it? >> now. >> explosions going on... we're not quite sure - >> is that an i.e.d.?
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you're watching talk to al jazeera with me, lisa fletcher. i'm speaking this week with a leading architect of his generation david adjaye.
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what's it like for a building to come to life? like, what is that process for you? >> it starts with an abstract thought. it's almost silent. it's not in color, as it were. it's a series of shapes, and forms, and feelings. it's about, you know, dividing between darkness and light. about materiality, and space. so, it's actually a very abstract conceptual forming. >> is it a notepad on the side of the bed? is it a moment brushing your teeth? >> no. it's never brushing my teeth. that's when i try to empty things out of my mouth - it is very much a notepad by the side of my bed. i'm a morning person. i think when my brain is finally kind of compressed information, in the morning i have bursts of is can morning i have bursts of
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clue. but, i mean, i think that the smithsonian is undoubtedly, probably something that just doesn't happen often in one's lifetime. so, in it is probably the thesis that i've been speaking about is probably absolutely encapsulated in that building. so, if you had to see one, i would say, "go see that one." but go see the others, too. >> david, thank you. >> thank you. >> celebrity chef, marcus samuelsson. >> i've had the fortune to live out my passion. >> his journey from orphan to entrepreneur. >> sometimes in life, the worst that can ever happen to you can also be your savior. >> and serving change through his restaurants.
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>> we hired 200 people here in harlem... these jobs can't be outsourced. >> i lived that character. >> we will be able to see change. unlocking the shooter's iphone. i will talk to a security expert who thinks apple should give in. in our panel fears over donald trump presidency. and my final thought on america's double standard when it comes to double rights. i'm ali velshi . this is third rail apple computer resisting a court order to open an iphone attack.