David Adjaye, an architect with a loyal following in the art world, is currently facing controversy in Ghana, where his firm has its offices.
Last week, Samuel Okudzeto Ablakwa, a member of a minority party in Ghana’s Parliament, called for Adjaye to refund the $21.4 million fee his firm was paid for the construction of the National Cathedral in Accra. Ablakwa claims that the fee was not approved by Parliament.
The 10.5 percent design fee for Adjaye’s team, which includes 14 consultants, is below the Ghanaian government’s recommended rate of 16.5 percent.
Construction on the cathedral has been paused since March. Ablakwa, a politician for the National Democratic Congress, the center-left minority party in Ghana’s Parliament, has framed his concerns about the cathedral in relation to an alleged lack of financial transparency from Nana Akufo-Addo, the country’s president, who has largely dismissed Ablakwa’s recent statements.
Akufo-Addo is a member of the centre-right New Patriotic Party that currently holds a majority in Parliament. Ablakwa said that, were the National Democratic Congress to assume a majority in Parliament, it would formally demand Adjaye to repay his fee to the government.
The allegations against Adjaye have brought Ablakwa significant attention on social media. One post on Twitter in which he called Adjaye’s contract “irregular” has received more than 800 likes. A similar post on Facebook received more than 2,000 likes.
A representative for Adjaye Associates did not respond to a request for comment. The National Cathedral of Ghana issued a lengthy statement defending the project and its funding, but it did not mention Adjaye.
Adjaye is currently one of the most closely watched architects in the world. He is at work on the new building of New York’s Studio Museum in Harlem and the Edo Museum of West African Art, a not-yet-open museum in Benin City that is expected to host Benin Bronzes once they are repatriated to Nigeria.
Born in Tanzania to parents of Ghanaian descent and based in London, he has been widely praised for buildings that tweak the formulae for Western structures. His National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C., which appeared on an ARTnews list of the top 25 museum buildings of the past 100 years, deliberately did not make use of the white marble traditionally seen in American institutions.
Ever since designs for the National Cathedral were announced in 2018, the project has faced public suspicion because of the costs associated with it. According to recent estimates supplied by members of Ghana’s government, the National Cathedral will have required around $1 billion by the time it is completed.
Some have called on Ghanaians to look past those costs, however, and focus instead on the majesty of Adjaye’s designs. Art historian Chika Okeke-Agulu wrote in 2018 that the National Cathedral “signifies that Africa can build a major work by a leading architect at the top of his game. This is a remarkable thing: Ghana will get to brag about a globally recognized architectural landmark.”
Members of the New Patriotic Party in Ghana seemed to echo Okeke-Agulu’s claims in their defenses last week of Adjaye, Akufo-Addo, and the National Cathedral project.
Gabby Otchere-Darko, a MP with the New Patriotic Party, wrote in a statement posted to social media, “I find it sad to see men we celebrate for their intellectual artistry being the lead campaigners against a globally succesful Ghanaian such as David Adjaye who chose to relocate his global business in Ghana. #HateNotSuccess”
Others have claimed that Adjaye’s positive reputation and architectural prowess should not necessarily be called into play when questioning the National Cathedral’s funding.
Linking to an article about controversy over a building Adjaye designed for Brad Pitt’s Make It Right Foundation in New Orleans, Ghanaian writer Bright Simons wrote on Twitter, “I can’t fathom why some people think that an enormously talented, world-famous, architect awarded massive public contracts can’t be scrutinised in a regulated industry because of his stature.”
Update, 6/28/22, 9:40 a.m.: This article has been updated to include mention of the Ghanaian government’s recommended design fee.