In a groundbreaking achievement, Professor Lesley Lokko has etched her name in history as the first woman of African descent to be awarded the Royal Gold Medal by the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA).
At 60, the Ghanaian-Scottish architect, educator, and author is celebrated not only for her architectural prowess but also for her unwavering commitment to justice causes and her mission to “democratize architecture.”
Lokko’s influence on the field extends beyond her architectural designs; it is deeply rooted in her dedication to fostering diversity within the industry. Her establishment of the African Futures Institute (AFI) in Accra, Ghana, in 2021 reflects her profound exploration of the connections between architecture, identity, and race.
This historic accolade solidifies Lokko’s status as a trailblazer, marking the first time a woman of African descent has been honored with the Royal Gold Medal since its inception in 1848. Following in the footsteps of last year’s recipient, Yasmeen Lari, Lokko joins her as the first-ever back-to-back solo female Royal Gold Medalists in RIBA’s rich history.
Throughout her illustrious career, Lokko has served as the dean of the CCNY Spitzer School of Architecture and founded the Graduate School of Architecture at the University of Johannesburg. Her impact transcends geographical boundaries, with teaching experiences in the UK, US, and Africa. The RIBA Honours Committee praises Lokko for her role as a “clarion call for equitable representation in policies, planning, and design that shape our spaces.”
Acknowledging her achievements, Lokko received an OBE for her contributions to architecture and education in 2023. She also made history as the first black curator of the International Architecture Biennale in Venice.
Muyiwa Oki, President of RIBA, commends Lokko as “a fierce champion of equity and inclusion,” highlighting her progressive approach to architecture education as a beacon for the future. Oki envisions a profession that embraces diversity and considers environmental needs, cultures, and perspectives.
Described as a “visionary agent of change” and a “humble revolutionary force,” Lokko attributes her success to collaborative efforts. In her words, “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.”
Reflecting on her architectural journey, Lokko notes, “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.”
Lesley Lokko is set to formally receive the Royal Gold Medal 2024 at an event on May 2 at RIBA’s headquarters in London, marking a momentous occasion in the world of architecture.