Architect named 2021 recipient of UK’s highest honour for architecture

Sir David Adjaye (C)Alex Fradkin

Source: Alex Fradkin

RIBA has named Sir David Adjaye as the recipient of the 2021 Royal Gold Medal.

Adjaye (pictured) follows in the footsteps of 2020 winner Dublin-based Grafton Architects and 2019 victor Nicholas Grimshaw in being granted the UK’s highest honour for architecture.

Earlier recipients include Neave Brown, Zaha Hadid, Norman Foster, Le Corbusier, Frank Lloyd Wright and original 1848 laureate Charles Robert Cockerell.

RIBA president Alan Jones said Adjaye had achieved international attention for an exceptional body of work over 25 years.

Smithsonian National Museum of African American Arts and Culture - Washington DC - Alan Karchmer

Source: Alan Karchmer

Smithsonian National Museum of African American Arts and Culture

“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,” he said.

“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.”

Adjaye, who was knighted in 2017, has professorships at the universities of Harvard, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Princeton.

Among the schemes his practice Adjaye Associates, founded in 2000, has worked on are the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, in Washington, DC (2016), the Sugar Hill Mixed Use Development in Harlem, New York (2015), the Museum of Contemporary Art in Denver, Colorado (2007) and the Rivington Place arts centre in Hackney, London (2007).

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.”

Rivington Art Place - London - Lyndon Douglas

Source: Lyndon Douglas

Rivington Art Place

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.

Adjaye Associates has offices in in Accra, London and New York.

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.