Heralded as a “renaissance figure who has etched an indelible mark on the global stage,” Ghanaian-Scottish architect and educator Lesley Lokko has been named by the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) as the 2024 recipient of the Royal Gold Medal.
Lokko, who established “pan-African think tank” the African Futures Institute (AFI) in 2021 in the Ghana capital of Accra and served as the first Black curator of the Venice Biennale of Architecture for its recently concluded 18th cycle, is the first African woman to receive the prestigious accolade, which has been awarded annually by RIBA on behalf of the British monarch since 1848. Lokko joins recent honorees including 2023 laureate Yasmeen Lari (Pakistan’s first female architect), the late B.V. Doshi, David Adjaye, and Shelley McNamara and Yvonne Farrell of Dublin-based Grafton Architects. Unlike those previous awardees, who were recognized for their impressive portfolios of built work, Lokko is being acknowledged for her professional devotion to “amplifying under-represented voices and examining the complex relationship between architecture, identity, and race, profoundly impacting architectural education, dialogue, and discourse,” as noted by RIBA in its announcement. Born in Dundee, Scotland, and educated at the Bartlett School of Architecture, University College London, and at the University of London, where she received her PhD in architecture in 2007, Lokko is also a best-selling novelist.
Lesley Lokko. Photo by Festus Jackson-Davis
“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,” added RIBA president Muyiwa Oki.
In addition to her role as founder of the AFI, described by the 2024 RIBA Honours Committee as “an architectural education center that reimagines Africa as a crucible of the future,” Lokko has held academic posts at a range of leading international institutions including Iowa State University, University of Illinois at Chicago, the University of Michigan, Kingston University, University of London, University of Westminster, and the University of Johannesburg, where she established and served as founding director of the Graduate School of Architecture. Stateside, Lokko was also dean of the Bernard and Anne Spitzer School of Architecture at the City College of New York beginning in January 2020, just ahead of the global COVID-19 pandemic. She resigned—an act she described as a “a profound act of self-preservation”—less than a year later in October 2020 due in part to what she called a “lack of meaningful support.”
“My decision to leave Spitzer after less than a year is fairly straightforward: I was not able to build enough support to be able to deliver on either my promise of change, or my vision of it,” said Lokko in a statement at the time. “The reasons why are more complex.”
“It came as such a surprise to me,” said Lokko in reaction to news of winning the 2024 Royal Gold Medal. “This was never in 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 organizations I have worked with that share my goals.”
She added: “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.”
Lesley Lokko. Photo by Murdo Macleod
Chaired by Oki, the 2024 Royal Gold Medal selection committee also included Lari, RSHP senior partner Ivan Harbour, Walters & Cohen partner Cindy Walters, and Neal Shasore, Head of School and Chief Executive at the London School of Architecture.
Calling Lokko’s work a “clarion call for equitable representation in policies, planning, and design that shape our living spaces,” the committee added in its citation that the 2024 Royal Gold Medal serves as “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.”
Lokko will be formally presented with the 2024 Royal Gold Medal on May 2 at a ceremony in London.