The Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) has just announced that Sir David Adjaye will receive the 2021 Royal Gold Medal. One of the world’s highest honors for architecture, the Royal Gold Medal is given as a recognition of a lifetime's work, “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, over the course of 25 years, has achieved international recognition and attention with a series of groundbreaking and worldwide interventions, ranging from private houses, exhibitions, and furniture design, to major cultural buildings and city masterplans. In 2000 he founded his practice Adjaye Associates with studios in Accra, London, and New York. Combining practice with teaching, Adjaye taught at the universities of Harvard, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Princeton.
Known for the highly celebrated Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, in Washington, DC (2016), Adjaye Associates has completed projects across the world. Their interventions include Ruby City, an art center 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 neighborhood 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 center in Hackney, London (2007); and the Idea Stores – two community libraries in London (2004, 2005).
It’s incredibly humbling and a great honor to have my peers recognize 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.
— Sir David Adjaye
Acclaimed for his work, Sir David Adjaye “was knighted in the 2017 New Year Honors for services to architecture, following an OBE in 2007”. He also won the 1993 RIBA Bronze Medal for the best design project worldwide as a student, the 2008 RIBA International Awards for the Museum of Contemporary Art, Denver, and in 2013, for both the Francis Gregory Library and William. O Lockridge/Bellevue Library in Washington DC.
His on-going 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 this occasion, RIBA President Alan Jones stated:
It was my absolute pleasure and honor 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 centers, 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 practicing 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.
Read on for the 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 realized 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 the culture and the stories of people’s lives, realizing 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.