RIBA honours Ghanaian-Scottish architect, educator, author, curator and “visionary agent of change”
Lesley Lokko has been named as the 2024 recipient of RIBA’s Royal Gold Medal for architecture in recognition of her commitment to championing diverse approaches to architectural practice and education.
RIBA president Muyiwa Oki said Ghanaian-Scottish architect, educator, author and curator Lokko was a “visionary agent of change” whose progressive approach to architecture education offered the profession “hope for the future”.
The institute said Lokko had 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.
It said 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”.
Last year Lokko became the first black curator of the International Architecture Biennale in Venice.
Dundee-born Lokko has taught widely in North America, the UK and Africa. Notable roles include dean of the Bernard and Anne Spitzer School of Architecture at the City College of New York and founder and director of the Graduate School of Architecture at the University of Johannesburg.
In 2021, she founded the African Futures Institute in Accra, Ghana, with the aim of creating 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.
Lokko said she was both surprised and delighted to be considered alongside some of the great past winners of the Royal Gold Medal. Recipients in recent decades have included Norman Foster, Richard Rogers, Zaha Hadid, David Chipperfield and Grafton Architects.
“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 said.
“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.”
The 2024 Royal Gold Medal selection committee was chaired by RIBA president Oki and included 2023 recipient Yasmeen Lari, RSHP senior partner Ivan Harbour, Walters & Cohen partner Cindy Walters, and head of school and chief executive at the London School of Architecture Neal Shasore.
Oki said Lokko was a “fierce champion” of equity and inclusion in all aspects of life who had left a mark on the architecture profession in the process.
“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,” he said.
“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. She remains a humble revolutionary force, with her ambition and optimism etching an indelible mark on the global architectural stage.”
Lokko will formally receive the Royal Gold Medal 2024 at an event in London in May.
Lesley Lokko: Citation by the RIBA Honours Committee
“Prof 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 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.”