Sir David Adjaye awarded Britain's highest architecture honor
The Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) has awarded Ghanian British architect Sir David Adjaye the 2021 Royal Gold Medal. The UK's most prestigious architectural honor, the Royal Gold Medal is personally approved by the Queen and is given to a person or group who've had a significant influence on the advancement of architecture.
Born in Tanzania to Ghanaian parents, Adjaye traveled a lot with his diplomat father before settling in the UK. During his childhood he noticed that his brother Emmanuel, who was partially paralyzed, struggled at school due to its poor facilities and bad design. While attending university in London, he began to think about designing a facility that would provide better care for people like his brother and this idea that architecture should serve everyone has informed his work since. He founded Adjaye Associates 20 years ago and the firm now operates in Ghana, the UK, and USA.
"It was my absolute pleasure and honor to chair the committee and be involved in selecting Sir David Adjaye as the 2021 Royal Gold Medalist," says RIBA President Alan Jones. "At every scale, from private homes to major arts centers, 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. 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."
One major career highlight to date is the National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC), which is conceived as a symbol of the African American contribution to the history and identity of the United States. Located near the Washington Monument in Washington DC, the building's overall shape is inspired by a Yoruban Caryatid, a traditional West African wooden column.
Its exterior is wrapped in an ornamental bronze-colored metal lattice which pays homage to the ironwork once crafted by enslaved African Americans. The vast interior includes galleries, exhibition spaces, art collections, and more, and it also has significant sustainable technology, such as roof-based solar panels, efficient heating and cooling, and rainwater collection for toilet and irrigation use.
Ruby City is another notable recent project. An art center in San Antonio, Texas, the building features an interesting exterior that's made from precast concrete fabricated in Mexico City. The concrete has a polished finish for the first 10 ft (3 m), then it turns rough, sharp, and encrusted with two hues of red glass. The aim is to make it seem like a sparkling rock.
The interior is laid out as a loop for visitors to walk around, through gallery rooms, a lobby and plaza, while enjoying views of nearby parks.
"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," says the architect. "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."
Previous Royal Gold Medal winners read like a who's who of top architectural talent and have included Zaha Hadid, Grafton Architects, and Norman Foster. The announcement also comes as RIBA confirms there will be no Stirling Prize this year, due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Head to the gallery to see a selection of Adjaye's superb architectural works chosen by RIBA.