The Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) has exhumed a never-released recording of Ray Eames, then 66 years old, accepting the RIBA Royal Gold Medal at a ceremony held in London on June 12, 1979. Ray Eames’s partner in design and in life, Charles Eames, had died the year prior.
The ceremony marked the 131st presentation of the Royal Gold Medal, awarded that year to the Venice, California-based design studio Eames Office. Although a seemingly unorthodox choice for the institute’s highest, Monarch-approved annual honor, it didn’t come completely out of left field as RIBA explained: “The choice of the American husband and wife designer duo was perhaps not surprising given the nature of the selection committee, comprising architects with a strong affiliation with the modernist philosophy and receptive to American design influences.”
The nearly 20-minute clip, unearthed and digitized by former RIBA chief archivist Kurt Helfrich, begins with RIBA president Gordon Graham (1977-1979) introducing Ray Eames, and noting the remarkable nature of the occasion:
“During the last 150 years, the Royal Gold Medal has crossed the Atlantic on ten occasions and tonight will be the eleventh. This is only the second occasion, however, that the medal has been conferred upon a corporate group of people. […] But this is the first and only occasion so far when the President of the day had the pleasure of investing a lady.”
The 2020 Royal Gold Medal was bestowed to two female architects, Yvonne Farrell and Shelley MacNamara of Dublin-based Grafton Architects. Ray Eames passed away in Los Angeles at the age of 75 in 1988.