The Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) announced on 30th September 2020 that Sir David Adjaye will receive 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’.
Sir David Adjaye has achieved international attention for an exceptional 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 UK and the USA, 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, London and New York, with projects across the world.
Adjaye Associates are most well-known for the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, in Washington, DC (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 (2016); the Sugar Hill Mixed Use Development (housing, museum, community facilities and offices) in Harlem, New York (2015); the Aishti Foundation,a mixed use retail and arts centre in Beirut, Lebanon (2015); two neighbourhood libraries in Washington, DC (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).
Current projects include a new home for The Studio Museum in Harlem, New York in collaboration with Cooper Robertson; 130 William, a high-rise residential tower in New York’s financial district; the International Finance Corporation (IFC) in Dakar, Senegal; the Princeton University Art Museum in Princeton, New Jersey in collaboration with Cooper Robertson; the George Street Sydney Plaza in Sydney, Australia; The Abrahamic Family House, an interfaith complex in Abu Dhabi; Winter Park Library and Events Center in Winter Park, Florida; the UK Holocaust Memorial and Learning Centre, London led by Adjaye Associates, with Ron Arad Architects as Memorial Architect, and Gustafson Porter + Bowman as Landscape Architect; the Royal Benin Museum in Benin City, Nigeria; the National Cathedral of Ghana in Accra; and the Thabo Mbeki Presidential Library in Johannesburg, South Africa.
On hearing the news that he will receive the Royal Gold Medal in 2021, Sir David Adjaye said:
“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.”
RIBA President Alan Jones said:
“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.
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.”
Sir David Adjaye was knighted in the 2017 New Year Honours for services to architecture, following an 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 DC (both 2013).
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.
Citation on Sir David Adjaye by the 2021 RIBA Honours Committee:
Through his work as an architect Sir David Adjaye speaks confidently across cultures, disciplines, politics and continents. His body of work is global and local, finely attuned as it reflects and responds to context and community, climate and culture.
The lessons Adjaye learned through his initial series of conceptual and sensuous dwellings set boldly against and within the shifting landscape of central London have been disassembled and reconfigured as he has realised wider, civic public and social spaces of cities across the world. Listening to clients and users and often working with artists, Adjaye’s work is contradictory and yet coherent, contrasting and courageous, setting up and balancing elegance and grit, weightlessness and weight, dark and light.
Adjaye has combined practice and teaching in schools of architecture around the world and championed civic representation through public discourse. He is dedicated to communicating and creating architecture that is both personal and inspired by culture and the stories of people’s lives, realising places that offer new layers of empathy, experience and engagement.
His work reveals a core belief in the generative power of architecture. In a world that has become polarised he brings politics, art and science together with architecture, as he works to create a better future. The Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington DC united his many architectural and cultural agendas and expressed the role architecture can play in pluralism.
Adjaye is a singular and timely talent and a strong reminder of the insightful and integrative role of the architect.