“Revolutionary force” wins 2024 RIBA Royal Gold Medal

Lesley Lokko, winner of the RIBA Royal Gold Medal

Professor Lesley Lokko, acclaimed Ghanaian-Scottish architect, educator, author and curator, will receive this year’s Royal Gold Medal 2024, one of the world’s highest honours for architecture. She is the first African woman to win the award.

Lokko is the third woman to receive the prestigious accolade in her own right – rather than as part of a team – since it was established in 1848. The others are architects Zaha Hadid and Yasmeen Lari.

Given in recognition of a lifetime’s work, the Royal Gold Medal is given to a person or group of people who have had a significant influence either directly or indirectly on the advancement of architecture.

Other women to have won the RIBA Royal Gold Medal include Ray Eames, Patricia Hopkins, Sheila O’Donnell, Shelley McNamara and Yvonne Farrell.

Norman Foster, Nicholas Grimshaw, Frank Gehry and Frank Lloyd Wright are also among the previous winners.

Champion of diversity

As the 2024 recipient, Lesley Lokko is being recognised for her commitment to championing diverse approaches to architectural practice and education.

For over two decades, Professor Lokko has devoted her career to amplifying under-represented voices and examining the complex relationship between architecture, identity and race, profoundly impacting architectural education, dialogue and discourse.

"A fierce champion of equity and inclusion in all aspects of life, Lesley Lokko’s progressive approach to architecture education offers hope for the future – a profession that welcomes those from all walks of life, considers the needs of our environment, and acknowledges a broad range of cultures and perspectives," said RIBA president Muyiwa Oki.

"A visionary agent of change, Lesley has dedicated her life to championing these values, not only through academic endeavours, but through her work as an author and curator," he continued.

"She remains a humble revolutionary force, with her ambition and optimism etching an indelible mark on the global architectural stage."

"Testament to the people and organisations I have worked with that share my goals"

Lokko is best known as the founder of African Futures Institute (AFI), an independent school of architecture in Accra, Ghana, which exists to reimagine "Africa as the crucible of the future".

More recently, she has made waves as the curator of the 18th International Architecture Biennale in Venice. She was the first person of African descent to curate the event.

Lokko, an author, educator and architect is described as "a visionary agent of change"

Lokko described her RIBA Royal Gold Medal win as "such a surprise" and "a testament to the people and organisations I have worked with that share my goals".

"This was never on the cards," she reflected.

"I’m delighted to be considered alongside some of the great past winners of the Royal Gold Medal. Although this is a personal award, this isn’t merely a personal triumph, this is a testament to the people and organisations I have worked with that share my goals," Lokko continued.

"I came into architecture seeking certainties, looking for answers. Instead, I found questions and possibilities, far richer, more curious, and more empathetic ways to interpret and shape the world. Architecture gave me language, in all its forms – visual, written, built, performed – and that language, in turn, has given me such hope."

Lokko has a PhD in Architecture from the University of London and is the author of essay collection White Papers Black Marks, as well as 13 novels including Sundowners.

Over the last two decades, she has taught architecture to students around the world. She founded the Graduate School of Architecture at the University of Johannesburg and served as dean of The Bernard and Anne Spitzer School of Architecture at The City College of New York.

The 2024 Royal Gold Medal will be formally presented to Lokko in London on 2 May 2024. It follows several other awards given to Lokko, including an OBE in 2023 for her services to architecture and education and the RIBA Annie Spink Award in 2020 for her "outstanding contribution to architectural education".

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