The Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) has today (18 January 2024) announced that Professor Lesley Lokko, the acclaimed Ghanaian-Scottish architect, educator, author and curator, will receive the Royal Gold Medal 2024 for architecture. One of the world’s highest honours in architecture – presented on behalf of His Majesty the King – the medal recognises Lokko’s commitment to championing diverse approaches to architectural practice and education.
For over two decades, 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.
Her work to “democratise architecture” has been hailed by the RIBA Honours Committee 2024 as a “clarion call for equitable representation in policies, planning, and design that shape our spaces”.
In 2021, she founded the African Futures Institute (AFI) in Accra, Ghana, aiming to be a new model of education, research and public dialogue that unites the arts, humanities and sciences and “reimagines Africa as the crucible of the future”. Operating as a pan-African think tank, the institute champions cutting-edge teaching and world-class research to confront contemporary challenges around race, environmental justice and new forms of urbanism.
Prior to establishing the AFI, Lokko taught around the world and reframed architecture courses to democratise, decolonise and progress architectural education. Notable roles include Founder and Director of the Graduate School of Architecture at the University of Johannesburg and Dean of The Bernard and Anne Spitzer School of Architecture at The City College of New York.
In 2023, Lokko was awarded an OBE for services to architecture and education and was appointed Curator of the 18th International Architecture Biennale in Venice. Titled ‘The Laboratory of the Future’, the exhibition placed Africa at its centre and included its first ever educational component. The Biennale College Architettura saw 50 students from across the globe come together for a four-week teaching programme, focused on the twin themes of the exhibition – decarbonisation and decolonisation.
On hearing the news, Lesley Lokko said:
“It came as such a surprise to me. This was never on the cards. 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.
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.”
RIBA President, Muyiwa Oki said:
“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.
A visionary agent of change, Lesley has dedicated her life to championing these values, not only through academic endeavors, but through her work as an author and curator. She remains a humble revolutionary force, with her ambition and optimism etching an indelible mark on the global architectural stage.”
The Royal Gold Medal 2024 will be formally presented to Lesley Lokko in London on 2 May 2024.
The 2024 Royal Gold Medal selection committee was chaired by RIBA President Muyiwa Oki and comprised of Royal Gold Medal 2023 recipient Yasmeen Lari, architect and senior partner at RSHP Ivan Harbour, Head of School and Chief Executive at the London School of Architecture Neal Shasore, and Cindy Walters, architect and partner at Walters & Cohen.
Citation by the RIBA Honours Committee 2023:
“Professor Lesley Lokko is an educator, author, and curator. A luminary architect and renaissance figure who has etched an indelible mark on the global stage. For over two decades Lokko has been rightly recognised for her groundbreaking contributions to architectural education, dialogue, and discourse from a Global South perspective – relentlessly pursuing inclusivity and equity in the field. Not only is Lokko the first African woman to receive this honour, but she also now takes her place among architecture’s defining figures.
One of her crowning achievements is the Architectural Futures Institute (AFI) nestled in Accra, Ghana – an architectural education centre, that reimagines Africa as a crucible of the future, where novel urban forms are collaboratively conceived. The AFI stands as a beacon, acknowledging the contributions of women from the African diaspora. It extends an invitation to embrace opportunities and exalts courageous and creative voices.
A guiding force for creativity, Lokko’s curatorial prowess shone brilliantly in her recent stewardship of the Venice Biennale 2023, a groundbreaking event that united African and Africa-related architectural expressions for the first time. It was a platform where emerging and established African architects and designers converged to create ‘The Laboratory of the Future’, a six-part exhibition igniting the discourse on decarbonisation and decolonisation. Under Lokko’s curatorship Nigerian artist, designer, architect and master builder, Demas Nwoko was the first Black person to be awarded the prestigious Golden Lion for Lifetime Achievement at the International Venice Biennale.
Her pivotal role on the board of the pioneering New Architecture Writers program in London, dedicated to supporting “professionals of colour who are under-represented across design, journalism and curation”, underscores her commitment to diversity. Remarkably, Lokko’s seminal work White Papers Black Marks was published over two decades ago in 2000.
In 2020, she was awarded the RIBA Annie Spink Award for Excellence in Architectural Education for her impactful leadership, passion and an unwavering commitment to architectural education and research, in particular her lectures and published works focusing on the subjects of race, identity and architecture.
While Lokko’s impact extends beyond architecture, this honour acknowledges her prodigious contributions to the architectural domain. Her work champions diverse approaches to practice, and pushes the boundaries of what architecture is, and what it can achieve.
She ardently advocates for individuals from all walks of life to partake in the tapestry of architecture; and her interpretation of architecture as culture, an art form that fosters public dialogue centred on ideas and content rather than only function, democratises architecture, making it accessible to all.
Lokko’s work is a clarion call for equitable representation in policies, planning, and design that shape our living spaces. Her pedagogical footprint spans diverse cultural landscapes, from the United States and the United Kingdom to South Africa and Ghana.
This medal honours Lokko’s resounding voice. It is a testament to her unwavering commitment to advancing architectural education and redressing imbalances by amplifying the voices of underrepresented people in shaping our built environment.”