Architecture is a communal art. It is a fusion of assurance of primary corollaries and induction of novel experiences. The deeply rooted relationship between architecture and social groups is an important one for it has been intuitively guiding the design process for centuries. David Adjaye, an internationally acclaimed architect, is renowned for his extraordinary skill and sensitivity towards the social fabric. The architect is the first African recipient of the RIBA Royal Gold Medal candidly quotes,’ For me, Architecture is a Social Act.’

In his formative years, David closely observed the inefficient facilities and degrading systems of specialized schools. While studying at South Bank he designed a facility for the handicapped which not only encouraged him to pursue architecture professionally but also enabled young David to realize his architectural philosophy. 

With time, David Adjaye established his firm David Adjaye Associates and designed a series of residential projects, studio spaces, and public buildings such as the Idea Store in White Chapel, UK, and the Nobel Peace Centre, Oslo. The following extract focuses on one of the early projects, The Museum of Contemporary Art Denver. The museum proved to be a turning point in David’s architectural oeuvre as the commission enabled the fraternity to realize the true potential of his interventions.

Early Beginnings

Founded in 1996, the Museum of Contemporary Art Denver was initiated by eminent philanthropists Sue Cannon, Marina Graves, and their colleagues in aiming to promote and preserve contemporary art. Before its relocation to the current site in 2003, the museum inhabited a renovated fish market in Sakura Square downtown Denver for more than seven years. Impressed by David Adjayge’s modern design, the firm was chosen for designing the complex amongst forty-seven firms competing for the commission.

With the absence of a permanent collection, MCA Denver displays multiple collections in its premises for a time interval ranging anywhere between a few weeks to a few months. As a result, flexibility and easy adaptability become the primary requirement of the building.

As David Adjaye quotes,’The architecture intends to Support rather than Define the museum’s vision’, implying the museum was molded to retain its fluid ambiance. Therefore, the building successfully conveys communal values like coherence and consonance by a unison of interiors and exteriors.

Museum of Contemporary Art Denver, USA by David Adjaye: USA'S first LEED certified contemporary art museum - Sheet1
MCA Denver during Daytime_Courtsey of Adjaye Architects

Enclosure and Openness

The geometric massing of the museum envelopes twenty thousand square feet of exhibition space. Split into five galleries, the exhibition spaces form the core of the museum. These smaller modules of variable proportions are assembled neatly in three separate volumes. The voids between volumes act as circulation spaces letting in sunlight in via skylights. 

The complex also comprises a Shop, Education Spaces, Library, and Rooftop Garden Area for outdoor viewing. Two of the three blocks brace the load of a small Members Room and the education spaces whereas the third block braces the load of a bounded Roof Terrace. David Adjaye oriented the Members Room and the boundary wall of Education Spaces such that the occupants rejoiced in a spectacular aerial view of downtown Denver.

Museum of Contemporary Art Denver, USA by David Adjaye: USA'S first LEED certified contemporary art museum - Sheet2
Geometric Volumes of MCA Denver_Courtsey of Adjaye Architects

Aiming for Sustainability

The outer facade of the museum is characterized by two sleek layers, a sheathing layer, and an insulating layer. The outer layer is a slim double-glazed glass panel consisting of grey tinted glass on the exterior and sandblasted clear glass on the interior. On the other hand, the inner layer embodies an excellent use of translucent panels of Monopan, an insulating material. This double-skin facade filters daylight and along with tinted T-shaped skylights a major part of the museum is illuminated by natural light. The skylights have been strategically veiled from the eye, enabling one to glimpse the trajectory and yet remain unaware of the course. 

During the day, the frontage of the building behaves like a translucent screen, amusing its patrons with striking views of the city. Whereas during the night the same frontage attracts the eye in the form of a gleaming facade. The bare white walls of the museum bounce light and leave enough room for contemplation. They also complement the grey glass panels inducing a monochrome color scheme. Through these endeavors, David Adjaye redefines the employment and spatial configurations of a museum.

Museum of Contemporary Art Denver, USA by David Adjaye: USA'S first LEED certified contemporary art museum - Sheet3
MCA Denver During Night time_Courtsey of Adjaye Architects

Thus, MCA Denver exhibits blurred boundaries between inside and outside that is the complex and the city. Rectangular massing and well-defined volumes of the museum connote clarity and simplicity. In stark contrast to the sharp, glazing form, the inner void comprises tranquil nuclear pockets. David Adjaye’s advocacy towards Sustenance and Energy Efficient technologies become evident in the microclimate experienced in the building and careful selection of materials. 

The museum is a recipient of multiple accolades such as the RIBA International Award for Building and a Gold Leadership in Energy and Environment Design establishing MCA Denver as the world’s First Sustainable Museum. Therefore in the firm’s first intervention in the US, David Adjaye triumphed in evaluating the finer nuances of the social fabric and introducing new pathways in designing social spaces.


David Adjaye Associates. (n.d.). David Adjaye Associates. Adjaye Associates. Retrieved 03 13, 2021, from

Detail. (2008, 01 15). Functional Green Design for MCA Denver. Detail-Online. Retrieved 03 13, 2021, from

MCA Denver. (n.d.). MCA Denver. MCA Denver. Retrieved 03 13, 2021, from


Tanisha Bharadia is a student pursuing Bachelors in Architecture from the University of Mumbai. She has a keen interest in architecture, a consistent approach along with a willingness to learn and persevere.

Write A Comment