Although the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) has officially scrapped the prestigious, members-only Stirling Prize this year due to the coronavirus pandemic, it has gone ahead with the announcement of the 2021 Royal Gold Medal, a lifetime achievement award of sorts conferred annually on behalf of the British Monarch to a single architect or group of architects in recognition of their considerable contributions to international architecture. While still relatively young by professional standards with what one would hope years of work still ahead of him, 54-year-old Ghanaian-British architect and educator Sir David Adjaye is the 2021 recipient.
Adjaye is the first Black recipient of the Royal Gold Medal in the 172-year history of the award.
Said Adjaye in reaction to the news:
“It’s incredibly humbling and a great honour to have my peers recognise the work I have developed with my team and its contribution to the field over the past 25 years. 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.”
Born in Tanzania to Ghanaian parents, Adjaye founded his eponymous practice Adjaye Associates in 2000 and maintains studios in London, New York City, and Accra, the capital city of Ghana. Among his firm’s most well-known completed works are the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C. (2016, in partnership with Freelon Group and Davis Brody Bond as Freelon Adjaye Bond/SmithGroup); Ruby City, an arts center in San Antonio, Texas (2019); the Moscow School of Management Skolkovo in Russia (2010); Denver’s Museum of Contemporary Art (2007); London’s Rivington Place (2007); and the Nobel Peace Center in Oslo (2005).
Adjaye Associates’ current/in-progress projects can truly be described as globe-spanning and include, among others, the recently revealed Princeton University Art Museum building in Princeton, New Jersey; the Studio Museum in Harlem, New York (with Cooper Robertson); 130 William Street in Manhattan; the National Cathedral of Ghana in Accra; Winter Park Library and Events Center in Winter Park, Florida; the Royal Benin Museum in Benin City, Nigeria; the George Street Sydney Plaza in Sydney, Australia, and the Thabo Mbeki Presidential Library in Johannesburg, South Africa.
Adjaye, who was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II in 2017 after being named Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) a decade prior, has received numerous previous honors from RIBA including the 1993 RIBA Bronze Medal and a trio of RIBA International Awards. His design for the Idea Store Whitechapel in London was shortlisted for the RIBA Stirling Prize for the best building of the year in 2006.
The 2021 Royal Gold Medal selection committee was chaired by RIBA President Alan Jones and included architects Lesley Lokko and Dorte Mandrup along with structural engineer Hanif Kara and Shelley McNamara, who along with partner Yvonne Farrell of Dublin-based Grafton Architects, were the recipients of the 2020 Royal Gold Medal.
Said Jones in a statement:
“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.”
In addition to McNamara and Farrell, other architects to receive the Royal Gold Medal over the past decade include I.M. Pei, David Chipperfield, Peter Zumthor, Nicholas Grimshaw, and Zaha Hadid, who, in 2015, became the first woman architect to be bestowed with the award. The Royal Gold Medal was inaugurated by Queen Victoria in 1848 and first awarded to Charles Robert Cockerell.