Architect, educator, and best-selling author Lesley Lokko has been appointed the curator of the 2023 Venice Biennale Architettura by the board of La Biennale di Venezia. The Ghanian-Scottish architect is the founding director of the African Futures Institute, the founder of the Graduate School of Architecture at the University of Johannesburg, and a founding member of the Council on Urban Initiatives. The author of several books and guest editor of UCL Press Series, Lokko is also the founder and editor-in-chief of FOLIO: Journal of Contemporary African Architecture, which is supported by the African Futures Institute (AFI). The recipient of numerous honors, she won RIBA’s Annie Spink Award in 2020 and the Ada Louise Huxtable Prize in 2021. For the last 30 years, through her work in architecture, academia, and literature, she has investigated the relationship between race, culture, and space.
Lokko is the first Black architect and fourth woman–following Yvonne Farrell and Shelley McNamara (2018) and Kazuyo Sejima (2010)–to assume the role of lead curator of the global event in Italy.
“A new world order is emerging, with new centers of knowledge production and control,” Lokko said in a statement to La Biennale di Venezia. “New audiences are also emerging, hungry for different narratives, different tools, and different languages of space, form, and place.”
In thanking President Roberto Cicutto and his team, she welcomed the unique opportunity “after two of the most difficult and divisive years in living memory,” for architects and designers “to show the world what we do best: put forward ambitious and creative ideas that help us imagine a more equitable and optimistic future in common.”
Born in Dundee, Scotland and raised in Accra, Ghana and Scotland, Lokko attended University College of London’s Bartlett School of Architecture, where she received her bachelor's degree and master’s in Architecture. She received her PhD in architecture from the University of London. In 2000, she authored the seminal work White Papers, Black Marks: Race, Space, and Architecture. She founded the Graduate School of Architecture at the University of Johannesburg in 2015, where she taught, and established the African Futures Institute in Accra in 2020 as a postgraduate school of architecture and public events platform.
A celebrated teacher and current visiting professor at the Bartlett School of Architecture, Lokko has taught in schools all over the world. Those include Iowa State University and University of Illinois at Chicago in the U.S.; London Metropolitan University, Kingston University, and University of Westminster in London; University of Cape Town in South Africa; and UTS Sydney in Australia. Notably, Lokko served as Dean at City College of New York’s Spitzer School of Architecture from 2019 to 2020 before her resignation made headlines. (In a statement to RECORD, she cited a “lack of meaningful support” and “a lack of empathy and respect for Black people, especially Black women” that informed her decision — what she called “a profound act of self-preservation.”)
Since making that crucial decision, Lokko has continued to make an impact. In addition to other posts, she presided on the jury of the Golden Lion Awards in 2021 for the 17th Venice Architecture Biennale that closed out last month after beginning in May 2021 due to Covid delays. The upcoming exhibition, Lokko’s latest endeavor, is likely to build on the ideas and dialogues put forward in last year’s biennale. Curated by MIT dean and architect Hashim Sarkis, “How Will We Live Together?” focused on envisioning architecture and design solutions for political polarization, the climate crisis, and the Covid19 pandemic.
“The 17th International Architecture Exhibition confirmed, perhaps definitively, the need to represent a discipline so closely intertwined with the needs of humanity and the planet,” said President Cicutto. Lokko’s appointment “is a way of welcoming the gaze of an international personality who is able to interpret, through different roles, her own position in the contemporary debate on architecture and cities.” Her perspective, he added, “takes as its starting point her own experience immersed in a continent that is increasingly becoming a laboratory of experimentation and proposals for the whole contemporary world.”
The 18th Venice Architecture Biennale is slated to open May 20, 2023 (with a pre-opening on May 18 and 19) and run through November 23, 2023.