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Barack Obama leads tributes as Sir David Adjaye receives RIBA Gold Medal

May 27 2021

Barack Obama leads tributes as Sir David Adjaye receives RIBA Gold Medal

Sir David Adjaye has received the 2021 RIBA Gold Medal for Architecture, recognising the Adjaye Associates founder for his role as a global ambassador for the profession, transcending national borders with a common language of building.

Former US President Barack Obama led tributes for Adjaye in a recorded message from across the Atlantic, lauding his ability to harness the power of architecture to speak directly to diverse communities. "In many ways, David and I are kindred spirits, we're both about the same age although he was smart enough to shave his head so he doesn't have as many grey hairs! We both had childhoods moving all over the place. I grew up in Hawaii and Indonesia, David's father was a diplomat so his family moved around Africa and the world before settling in London.

"Growing up in different places doesn't make you a good architect, if it did I'd be able to do more than just doodle. But it does give you a perspective that others might not have and an understanding of different cultures and an appreciation of different conditions. An ability to put all those things together in new ways and see the world in all its unique, indescribable beauty.

"Over the years David has used that perspective to create spaces unlike any the world has ever seen. I'll never forget watching the Smithsonian Museum of African American History & Culture rising near the White House. That bold bronze statement in a city of marble. Imagine having a chance to step inside and feel how this Ghanaian-British architect helped tell a uniquely American story. It was genius pure and simple."

Recalling his formative years Adjaye movingly paid tribute to the art teacher who set him on the path to becoming an architect as a young teenager, informing his desire to break down barriers within and without the profession. "The first prompt as a young teenager was my art school teacher who said I was creatively very capable but I didn't pay any attention to it. I was too obsessed with science and maths. This incredible teacher said I should pay attention to this side of myself.

"Being a good architect is both being a constructor and an artist at the same time. You oscillate between two worlds. As a student, I was inspired by all these great names in architecture.

"Winning the RIBA bronze medal as a young student (1993) was a validation for my parents I remember running to tell my mum! That medal unshackled me from the burden of having to prove this was the track. It gave me freedom early and sparked the sense that I wanted to use architecture not just as a building art form but for social change and social justice embedded in its DNA."

The 2021 Royal Gold Medal selection committee was chaired by RIBA President Alan Jones and included architects Lesley Lokko, Dorte Mandrup and 2020's Royal Gold Medal recipient Shelley McNamara and structural engineer Professor Hanif Kara.

Image by Josh Huskin 


Wendy of the
#1 Posted by Wendy of the on 27 May 2021 at 09:21 AM
His buildings are aren't very good, awards don't seem to mean much anymore. At least the people who are obsessed with identity will be happy.
#2 Posted by Jamie on 27 May 2021 at 10:15 AM
No1: Perhaps.
Or maybe it'll give people who are obsessed with "people who are obsessed with identity" something to moan about.
I happen to think he has a rich catalogue of varied and interesting buildings, engaging in often exciting architectural experiments. On a website where visitors often complain about the perceived banality / repetition of much of the architecture on show I'd say that was worthy of recognition. But that's just my tuppence-worth.
Mary Hill
#3 Posted by Mary Hill on 27 May 2021 at 12:42 PM
#1 this is a particularly bleak statement even for this forum.

It's fantastic David Adjaye has received this prestigious award. I can think of few better deserving recipients.
Brian Donnelly
#4 Posted by Brian Donnelly on 27 May 2021 at 13:15 PM
#3 I am genuinely interested. Do you think then that race and the influence of the Black Lives Matter movement internationally, particularly in the US and the focus on identity politics worldwide has nothing to do with this award? That it was given strictly on merit?
Brian Donnelly
#5 Posted by Brian Donnelly on 28 May 2021 at 10:09 AM
Hello failed students, office fodder and keyboard warriors, anybody there? This is a real question requiring a considered response, I'm not an architect and am interested. Was it given strictly on merit? For once your anonymity make sense.
Damp Proof Membrane
#6 Posted by Damp Proof Membrane on 28 May 2021 at 11:19 AM
Well-deserved recognition. Great to see.
#7 Posted by Jamie on 28 May 2021 at 12:05 PM
Dear Brian,
Yes, in my opinion it is well deserved. He has been a prolific and successful architect for many, many years, with a diverse and interesting portfolio.
The BLM movement (and others) may call more attention to diversity in architecture, but it's about time.
I remember similar discussions and questions when Adjaye was announced as the winner. It's interesting that the same "was this on merit" question isn't typically raised when the winner of this award (or so many others) is a white man, as is typically the case.
Yes, the majority of (high profile) architects are white men so they're likely to make up the majority of RIBA Gold Medal (or Pritzker etc) winners... but this question about merit / ability / quality only seems to be framed in this particular way for non-white / men winners.
Anyway, time for lunch.
Yours, Jamie Brown (architect, not failed student, not keyboard warrior).
Brian Donnelly
#8 Posted by Brian Donnelly on 28 May 2021 at 12:26 PM
#7 that is a considered response. The UR comments section is not just a slagfest opportunity for disgruntled employees. I have no doubt Adjaye is a talented architect. However, the events of the last two years, the rise of BLM. the politics of identity and the endorsement of Obama means the question is moot. Had that not happened then this award would have been given strictly on merit, no question.
B. Fuller
#9 Posted by B. Fuller on 28 May 2021 at 16:53 PM
I had a hunch I'd find some "I'm not racist but..." comments underneath this article, and unfortunately I was correct. What is wrong with some people?
Kirsty Smith
#10 Posted by Kirsty Smith on 28 May 2021 at 20:03 PM
In today's woke identity obsessed society it is becoming increasingly difficult to know if prizes and leadership positions are given out on merit or not.

Many of the woke crowd don't seem to care who gets a prize or a leadership position as long as they are not a 'Gammon', their non-identity merits don't seem to matter.
Woke Andy
#11 Posted by Woke Andy on 28 May 2021 at 20:22 PM
Nice of Nigel Faraj to join us under a couple of aliases.
Neil C
#12 Posted by Neil C on 29 May 2021 at 18:05 PM
Legitimate points #8 #10 responded to in the usual you must be racist manner and without merit.

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