The Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) has announced that the Royal Gold Medal will be awarded in 2021 to British architect Sir David Adjaye, who thus became the first black man to receive this important international architecture award, created in the middle of the 19th century.
Intended to dedicate, for the whole of the work, an individuality or a collective to which significant contributions to world architecture are due, the RIBA medal is now awarded to Adjaye at a time when, notes the British newspaper The Guardian, the institute itself is re-examining their role in the context of the British colonial past and seeking to address the low representation of blacks in the country’s architecture, where registered black architects do not exceed 1% of the total.
“Its work is local and specific, but at the same time global and inclusive,” said RIBA President Alan Jones. “Combining history, art and science”, this British architect – born in Tanzania to a Ghanaian father – creates environments that “balance contrasting themes and inspire us all,” said the director of the institute, whose medal of he has already distinguished some of the most emblematic and influential architects of the 20th century, including Frank Lloyd Wright and Le Corbusier.
Adjaye, now 54, began his career in the early 90s, having had short-lived stints in the studios of Briton David Chipperfield and Portuguese Eduardo de Souto Moura. Today his studio has dozens of major projects spread across the globe, and Adjaye led the team of architects that designed the ambitious National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, which cost approximately 500 million euros and opened in 2016, at a grand opening which the New York Times called it “the cultural event of the year”. A work that confirmed its recovery after the difficult years of the financial crisis of 2007, which almost bankrupted his studio.
The architect was announced in those years as the author of the project of the future center of contemporary African culture África.cont, which should have been born in the district of Janelas Verdes, in Lisbon, but which never materialized.
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In addition to public buildings, such as museums, libraries, galleries or schools, Adjaye has designed residential homes for some famous clients, such as designer Alexander McQueen or actor Ewan McGregor. And he often collaborates with visual artists, from the British Chris Ofili, winner of the Turner Prize, to the Danish-Icelandic Olafur Eliasson, with whom he collaborated on the installation Your Black Horizon, presented at the Venice Biennale 2005.
While Adjaye’s prestige and success in such a hegemonic industry dominated by white architects makes it difficult to ignore his skin color, he himself shows signs of exasperation as they still define him as a black architect, arguing that it is above all. architect, and that his roots are complex: the son of a diplomat, he lived in several African countries, but he also grew up in London, where he reached the age of 11.
According to Oliver Wainwright, the Guardian’s architecture critic, it cannot be excluded that RIBA has consecrated an architect whose best works may yet be to come. “He’s currently building one of the strangest skyscrapers Manhattan has ever seen,” says Wainwright, inventing other projects Ajaye currently has in hand: a cathedral in Accra, Ghana, a library in Florida, a financial center in Senegal or the Thabo Mbeki presidential library in Johannesburg, South Africa.