The Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) presented Sir David Adjaye OBE with 2021 Royal Gold medal, one of the profession’s highest honours. The Medal is given to a person or a group of people who have made significant contribution in the advancement of architecture.
Sir David Adjaye OBE has practiced architecture for over 25 years and achieved global recognition, working across varying location, typologies and scales. Known for creating atmospheres with his buildings, Adjaye has worked on some of the most influential building projects in the last decade. His practice, Adjaye Associates, was founded in 2000 and today has studios in Accra, London and New York, with projects across the world.
Sir David accepted the award during a live-streamed event that took place between London and Accra on 26 May, 2021.
"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 this craft. The social impact of this discipline has been and will continue to be the guiding force in the experimentation that informs my practice." - Sir David Adjaye OBE, Architect and recipient of the Royal Gold Medal 2021.
During the ceremony, Adjaye explained his concept of architecture as: "Architecture, when it's great, speaks about things which are difficult to put into language and difficult to quantify beyond the function." He added, "Great architecture silences you. It makes you think about other things."
Sir Adjaye also spoke about need for creating atmosphere in his latest project in New York: "With the 130 William Tower in New York, we tried to carve as much atmosphere out of it as we could. We didn't want people to feel claustrophobic, feeling trapped by the banality of modern construction. We want to create atmospheres and imagine a much more fulfilling life."
He was congratulated by many noteworthy people including former US President Barack Obama and U2 frontman, Bono, who commended Sir David, citing his work on (RED): a project launched to help fight AIDS in Africa.
As a student, he won the 1990 RIBA Bronze Medal. He was knighted in the 2017 New Year Honours for services to architecture, following an OBE in 2007.
RIBA President Alan Jones said: “It was my absolute pleasure and honour to chair the committee and be involved in selecting Sir David Adjaye as the 2021 Royal Gold Medallist.”
“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. 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 practising and teaching in schools of architecture, both have significantly enriched his work. His artistic and social vision has created public projects that perfectly demonstrate the civic potential of architecture – fostering empathy, identity and pride.”
“David’s contribution to architecture and design globally is already astounding, and I am excited that we have so much more of it to look forward to.”
Awarded since 1848, past Royal Gold Medallists include Grafton Architects (2020), Sir Nicholas Grimshaw (2019), Neave Brown (2018), Dame Zaha Hadid (2016), Frank Gehry (2000), Sir Norman Foster (1983), Frank Lloyd Wright (1941) and Sir George Gilbert Scott (1859).
Through his work as an architect Sir David Adjaye speaks confidently across cultures, disciplines, politics and continents, in Europe, Asia, North America and Africa. 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.
Sir David Adjaye is a Ghanaian-British architect who has received international acclaim for his impact on the field. Born in Tanzania to Ghanaian parents, his influences range from contemporary art, music and science to African art forms and the civic life of cities. In 2000, he founded Adjaye Associates, which today operates globally, with studios in Accra, London and New York and projects spanning across the globe.
Known for his ingenious use of materials and his sculptural ability, David Adjaye has established himself as an architect with an artist’s sensibility and vision. His projects range from private houses, bespoke furniture collections, product design, exhibitions and temporary pavilions to major arts centres, civic buildings, and master plans. Adjaye’s most well-known project to date, the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, DC opened on the National Mall in Washington DC in 2016 and was named Cultural Event of the Year by The New York Times. In 2017, Adjaye was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II and was recognised as one of the 100 most influential people of the year by TIME Magazine.
Ongoing projects include a new home for The Studio Museum in Harlem, New York; 130 William, a high-rise residential tower in New York’s financial district; the International Finance Corporation (IFC) in Dakar, Senegal; the Princeton University Art Museum in Princeton, New Jersey; the George Street Sydney Plaza in Sydney, Australia; The Abrahamic Family House, an interfaith complex in Abu Dhabi; the UK Holocaust Memorial and Learning Centre, London led by Adjaye Associates, with Ron Arad Architects as Memorial Architect, and Gustafson Porter + Bowman as Landscape Architect; and the National Cathedral of Ghana in Accra.