My journey around Africa was completely selfish. People kept saying, “You’re African.” Well, I was born there, I actually lived there… But there are stereotypes from Africans too. You’re supposed to somehow be the expert, but the people who said that they really knew it had, at maximum, been to ten places. So I got really exhausted, not so much by my not knowing Africa, but by the idea that Africa somehow didn’t seem to have an urban presence in people’s psyches. I did the exhibition African Cities at Harvard first, where I showed twelve cities. And I was just shocked at the response. People were saying, “Wow, there’s a tower there.” And I was like, “We’re in a fucking graduate design school and people are saying this to me? What is going on outside of this door?!” I was just frightened. After that exhibition, that was one of my duties. I owed it to myself, to my memories. I grew up in independence Africa, when cities and towers were going up. It was incredible. There was oil money, it was like Dubai at the time. These countries were flourishing, they had energy, they had all these things. That’s what I grew up in — it was full of optimism. Yes, it collapsed in some places. But there were amazing shoots of positive stuff. And I just wanted to go around the continent and see it all for myself. I set out to complete it in two years, but it took me eleven. But in the end I was so pleased because I think I got that book out just before the Instagram generation arrived. In just a few more years it would have been irrelevant.

Taken from an interview by Shumi Bose in PIN–UP 18, Spring Summer 2015. Portraits by Andreas Larsson.

David Adjaye’s book African Metropolitan Architecture (2011) is available through Rizzoli.