David Adjaye Wins Royal Gold Medal

John Hill
30. September 2020
Photo: Chris Schwagga:(All images courtesy of RIBA)

The Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) has announced that Sir David Adjaye is the 2021 recipient of the Royal Gold Medal, which recognizes architects who have had significant influence "either directly or indirectly on the advancement of architecture."

RIBA's announcement follows immediately after news it would be postponing the prestigious Stirling Prize, which is given to the best UK building completed in the previous year. The Stirling requires judges to visit shortlisted projects, making its cancellation in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic understandable, but the Gold Medal honors a whole career, allowing it to happen as a bright spot this year.

Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture (Photo: Alan Karchmer)

It's hard to disagree with the jury's decision to honor Adjaye, who has been involved with many diverse, notable buildings before and since forming Adjaye Associates in London in 2000, all the while maintaining an overtly humbling demeanor. Some of the many projects highlighted in RIBA's announcement include the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, DC (as Freelon Adjaye/Bond SmithGroup); the recently completed Ruby City art center in San Antonio, Texas; New York's Sugar Hill Mixed-Use Development; the Moscow School of Management Skolkovo; and two community libraries called Idea Stores completed in London early in his career.

Moscow School of Management Skolkovo (Photo: Aram Arakelyan)

With offices now in Accra, London, and New York, Adjaye's firm is staying quite busy. Just a few of its current projects include a new home for The Studio Museum in Harlem and the 130 William high-rise residential tower, both in New York; the recently unveiled design for the Princeton University Art Museum in Princeton, New Jersey; the George Street Sydney Plaza in Sydney, Australia; the National Cathedral of Ghana in Accra; and the Thabo Mbeki Presidential Library in Johannesburg.

Ideas Store Whitechapel, London (Photo: Adjaye Associates)
Adjaye's statement on hearing the news:

"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."

Francis Gregory Library, Washington, DC (Photo: Edmund Sumner)
Citation on Sir David Adjaye by the 2021 RIBA Honors 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 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 polarized 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.

*The 2021 Royal Gold Medal selection committee was chaired by RIBA President Alan Jones with architects Lesley Lokko, Dorte Mandrup and Shelley McNamara (2019 Royal Gold Medal recipient), plus structural engineer Professor Hanif Kara.

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