Allegations made by former employees have shed light on a darker side of Sir David Adjaye, a world-renowned architect. The three women, supported by PPLAAF, came forward in an article published by the Financial Times on 4 July 2023, accusing Adjaye of alleged sexual assault and sexual harassment and condemning the toxic work culture that he allegedly cultivated in his offices. The women disclosed to the Financial Times that Adjaye’s actions “have disrupted their careers, left them in precarious financial circumstances and caused them serious mental distress”.
Zanele Mbuyisa, PPLAAF’s legal counsel, pointed out to RFI that the women shared similar experiences with Adjaye: “Some have denounced forms of sexual assault, others have described a toxic working environment in David Adjaye’s company. What all these testimonies have in common is that everyone knew about his reputation towards women, but they were afraid to talk about it, because [David] Adjaye is powerful and influential in the art world.”
Sir David Adjaye, awarded a knighthood in 2017 and a member of the Order of Merit in the United Kingdom, is the author of several iconic buildings, including the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, the UK Holocaust Memorial, as well as the Edo Museum of West African Art in Benin City.
Maya and Gene I. Miles joined Adjaye’s office in Accra, Ghana, in 2018. They believed in his mission to showcase the best black talent in the architecture industry and to make the new Ghana office the leading architectural practice in Africa. However, they soon came to realise that working for Adjaye came at a cost.
As single mothers, Maya and Gene I. Miles moved to Ghana along with their children. According to the Financial Times, the Adjaye Associates often failed to pay their salaries on time and were slow to secure their work visas. When Adjaye visited Accra, Maya and Gene I. Miles hoped to bring up their financial instability and working visa status with him.
Following a dinner with Adjaye in September 2018, Gene I. Miles and Maya went with Adjaye to his corporate apartment for drinks. When they arrived, Adjaye left the women in the living room, reappearing in only a robe. Subsequently, they say that he steered the women towards his bedroom and, stroking and grabbing Maya, attempted to have sexual intercourse with them.
“I said, “No, this is not right” … I said he was our employer. But he persisted. He applied more pressure and the feeling was, if you don’t do this you’re silly, you’re stupid.” – Gene I. Miles
Gene I. Miles refused but did not want to leave the apartment without Maya, whom Adjaye pulled into his bedroom and onto his bed. According to Maya, Adjaye said: “You’ve just got to do this.” A few minutes later, the women left the bedroom, and Gene I. Miles accused Adjaye of abusing his position. The next day, Adjaye met with Maya and allegedly gave her money – not apologising for nor acknowledging the previous night.
Maya was victim of a second assault by Adjaye. In 2019, on their way back from a business trip, and as they walked through the terminal in Johannesburg OR Tambo International Airport (South Africa), Adjaye demanded that Maya “get in the bathroom”, where he proceeded to assault her. When Maya attempted to report this incident internally and confront Adjaye, she was allegedly brushed off. She tried to report the assault to the Ghanaian police as well; however, they lacked jurisdiction. In September 2021, she filed a criminal complaint against Adjaye in South Africa. After that, she was dismissed without notice.
“I felt so ill, I felt so worthless, like dirt, like nothing.” – Maya
According to the Financial Times article, Adjaye’s lawyer stated that Gene I. Miles and Maya were dismissed “due to concerns about their conduct and capabilities, which were raised by other employees”.
In January 2019, Adjaye met Dunia at an industry event in the UK. They met weeks later to “hear her ideas for business projects”, a meeting during which he allegedly sexually assaulted her. Dunia told the Financial Times that during her informal time as a communication and marketing specialist in the Adjaye Associates Accra office, she endured a series of controlling and emotionally abusive sexual encounters with him, saying “she felt pressured to work for him for a period without pay and to comply with his sexual demands because of his influence in the arts world”. Dunia sent a legal letter to Adjaye in February 2022, accusing him of sexual misconduct. The letter was dismissed by Adjaye and his lawyers.
“He told me to be a good girl and be quiet.” – Dunia
The women who disclosed their traumatic experiences working with Adjaye are still struggling to put their lives back together. As a consequence of the abuse, Maya experienced “depression and suicidal thoughts.” Gene I. Miles “took years to recover physically and psychologically and is still recovering financially from what transpired in Ghana under the employment of Adjaye.” For Dunia, her career has been completely disrupted, and she suffers from “social anxiety and having suicidal thoughts.” Nonetheless, they are sure that there are other women like them. By telling their stories, they hope to put a stop to these kinds of abuses.
The Financial Times investigation caused controversy within the international architecture community and beyond. Since the revelations, several newspapers have relayed the allegations of sexual abuse against Adjaye. One of the whistleblowers has spoken out publicly and other former Adjaye’s employees, such as Ngozi Olojede and Ewa Lenart, came forward on social media to share their own experiences with Adjaye.
The Financial Times investigation has also greatly impacted Adjaye’s work. According to The Architect’s Newspaper, Adjaye stepped down from multiple projects that he was leading such as the London Holocaust Memorial & Learning Centre as well as a project in Chicago’s Old Town. Developers also reevaluated their contracts with Adjaye Associates in Cleveland and Vermont. The Africa Institute in Sharjah, United Arab Emirates, cancelled Adjaye’s designs and an exhibition of Adjaye’s sculpture work was put on hold indefinitely at de Cordova Sculpture Park and Museum in Massachusetts. The revelations have also led him to resign from London Mayor Sadiq Khan’s panel of design advocates and the Serpentine Gallery’s board of trustees.
For additional information:
Financial Times :
The Architect’s Newspaper:
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