Davos 2021: Architect David Adjaye and photographer Sebastiao Salgado win Crystal Award

The award from the World Economic Forum honours artists who have made an impact on society

Ghanaian-British architect Sir David Adjaye. Courtesy Alex Fradkin
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Sir David Adjaye has been awarded the 27th Annual Crystal Award by the World Economic Forum, it was announced on Monday.

The Ghanaian-British architect has been recognised alongside documentary photographer Sebastiao Salgado.

"Both Sir David and Sebastiao are important storytellers of our time, who offer insights into the possibility for change," said Hilde Schwab, chair of the World Arts Forum. "They connect us to each other, they give us a language to imagine, and they provide visions of the world that can cut through the limitations of short-term or linear thinking."

The Crystal Award by the WEF honours exceptional artists for their contributions to society and is presented during The Davos Agenda. This year, the opening ceremony will take place on Sunday, January 24.

Who is Sir David Adjaye?

Adjaye, who won the prestigious Royal Gold Medal by the Royal Institute of British Architects last year, is being honoured for his "leadership in serving communities, cities and the environment" and his "ingenious use of materials with bespoke designs that set him apart as one of the leading architects of his generation".

The son of a diplomat, Tanzania-born Adjaye moved to Britain at a young age. Growing up, his interest in design stemmed from seeing his brother Emmanuel, who has a disability, navigate the built environment.

He often interweaves historical context into his designs. Among his major projects is the Smithsonian's National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, which drew design elements from West Africa. He is also the architect behind Abu Dhabi's Abrahamic Family House, which combines a mosque, church and synagogue in one structure.

The Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture on the National Mall in Washington, DC, designed by David Adjaye. Courtesy Alan Karchmer / NMAAHC
The Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture on the National Mall in Washington, DC, designed by David Adjaye. Courtesy Alan Karchmer / NMAAHC

"For me, architecture represents opportunities for storytelling, justice and transformation and my ambition has always been toward projects with these qualities," Adjaye said. "I am deeply humbled to be recognised with this year's Crystal Award and inspired to continue to pursue my work with social impact as the guiding force."

Who is Sebastiao Salgado?

Lauded photographer Salgado is known for his black and white photographs that capture the struggles of workers in gold mining, illegal logging and dam building. The Crystal Award recognises "his leadership in addressing inequality and sustainability".

“His work documents life on Earth, revealing both awe-inspiring and horrifying scenes, provoking debate about the human condition, and issues of inequality and sustainability. The photographs impart the dignity, and integrity, of his subjects, without forcing their heroism, or implicitly soliciting pity,” the WEF said.

Salgado said that he became a photographer "by accident", borrowing his wife's camera to take a picture on a trip to Africa. "I began to see the world in a different way. That changed my life entirely. Soon I wanted to share what I saw through the lens of the camera. I am deeply honoured to receive the Crystal Award for my work."

Previous Crystal Award winners include authors Paulo Coelho, Elie Wiesel, Umberto Eco and Nadine Gordimer; artists Olafur Eliasson, Jenny Holzer and Frank Stella; and actors Leonardo DiCaprio, Matt Damon, Emma Thompson and Forest Whitaker.

After the awards ceremony on January 24, the WEF will unveil the world premiere of See Me: A Global Concert, a 23-minute musical production led by music director Marin Alsop. It includes musicians such as Yo-Yo Ma, the Chamber Orchestra of the Afghanistan National Institute of Music, the Vienna Radio Symphony Orchestra and the Black Pearl Chamber Orchestra, among others.