The Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) has awarded Ghanaian-British architect Sir David Adjaye with the 2021 Royal Gold Medal, one of the world’s highest honours for architecture.
The Royal Gold Medal is approved personally by Her Majesty The Queen and is given to a person or group of people who have had a significant influence “either directly or indirectly on the advancement of architecture.”
Adjaye has achieved international attention for his body of work over 25 years. Drawing on his cited influences including “contemporary art, music, and science to African art forms and the civic life of cities,” his completed projects range from private houses, exhibitions, and furniture design, through to major cultural buildings and city masterplans. From the start of his career he has combined practice with teaching in schools of architecture in the United Kingdom and the United States, including professorships at the universities of Harvard, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Princeton.
His practice, Adjaye Associates, was founded in 2000 and today has studios in Accra (Ghana), London (United Kingdom), and New York, with projects across the world.
Adjaye Associates are well-known for the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, in Washington, D.C. (2016), where they were lead designer of the Freelon Adjaye/Bond SmithGroup. Other completed projects include Ruby City, an art centre in San Antonio, Texas (2019); the Alara Concept Store in Lagos, Nigeria, (2016); the Sugar Hill Mixed Use Development in Harlem, New York (2015); the Aishti Foundation, a mixed-use retail and arts centre in Beirut, Lebanon (2015); two neighbourhood libraries in Washington, D.C. (both 2012); the Moscow School of Management Skolkovo in Russia (2010); the Museum of Contemporary Art in Denver, Colorado (2007); the Nobel Peace Centre in Oslo, Norway (2005); Rivington Place arts centre in Hackney, London (2007); and the Idea Stores—two community libraries in London (2004, 2005).
“It is incredibly humbling and a great honour to have my peers recognize the work I have developed with my team and its contribution to the field over the past 25 years,” Adjaye said. “Architecture, for me, has always been about the creation of beauty to edify all peoples around the world equally and to contribute to the evolution of the craft. The social impact of this discipline has been and will continue to be the guiding force in the experimentation that informs my practice. A heartfelt and sincere moment of gratitude and thanks to all the people who supported the journey to get to this moment.”
The 2021 Royal Gold Medal selection committee, chaired by RIBA president Alan Jones, comprised architects Lesley Lokko, Dorte Mandrup, and last year’s Royal Gold Medal recipient Shelley McNamara and structural engineer professor Hanif Kara.
“It was my absolute pleasure and honour to chair the committee and be involved in selecting Sir David Adjaye as the 2021 Royal Gold Medallist,” said Jones. “At every scale, from private homes to major arts centres, one senses David Adjaye’s careful consideration of the creative and enriching power of architecture. His work is local and specific and at the same time global and inclusive. Blending history, art, and science, he creates highly crafted and engaging environments that balance contrasting themes and inspire us all. I believe his both practising and teaching in schools of architecture has significantly enriched his work. His artistic and social vision has created public projects that perfectly demonstrate the civic potential of architecture—fostering empathy, identity, and pride. David’s contribution to architecture and design globally is already astounding, and I am excited that we have so much more of it to look forward to.”
Adjaye was knighted in the 2017 New Year Honours for services to architecture, following an Order of the British Empire (OBE) in 2007. As a student, he won the 1993 RIBA Bronze Medal for the best design project worldwide; in 2006 his Idea Store Whitechapel was shortlisted for the RIBA Stirling Prize for the best building of the year. He has won RIBA International Awards for the Museum of Contemporary Art, Denver (2008), and the Francis Gregory Library and William. O Lockridge/Bellevue Library in Washington, D.C. (both 2013).