Hailed as “a visionary agent of change”, Lesley Lokko becomes the first woman of African descent to win the top award of the Royal Institute of British Architects.
The Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) has named Ghanaian-Scottish architect, educator and author Lesley Lokko as the 2024 recipient of the prestigious RIBA Royal Gold Medal.
The 60-year-old architect receives the award for her work surrounding justice causes and other attempts to “democratize architecture”.
Lokko has long championed bringing people of colour and other under-represented backgrounds into architecture over the past two decades, and in 2021, she founded the educational African Futures Institute (AFI) in Accra, Ghana, to further explore complex relationship between architecture, identity and race.
She becomes the first woman of African descent to win the Gold Medal since its founding in 1848, and joins last year’s winner Yasmeen Lari as the first-ever back-to-back solo female Royal Gold Medalists in RIBA history.
Through her tenure as dean of the CCNY Spitzer School of Architecture and founding director of the Graduate School of Architecture at the University of Johannesburg, Lokko has been greatly influential in her field. She has taught in the UK, US and Africa, and her work has been hailed by the RIBA Honours Committee as a “clarion call for equitable representation in policies, planning, and design that shape our spaces”.
Last year, Lokko was awarded an OBE for services to architecture and education, and became the first black curator of the International Architecture Biennale in Venice.
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.”
He went on to describe Lokko as “a visionary agent of change” and a “humble revolutionary force, with her ambition and optimism etching an indelible mark on the global architectural stage.”
Upon receiving the RIBA award, 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,” Lokko continued. “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.”
Lokko will formally receive the Royal Gold Medal 2024 at an event on 2 May at RIBA’s headquarters in London.
Read the full jury citation below:
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 decolonization. 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.