Lesley Lokko has become the first woman of African descent to win the top award of the Royal Institute of British Architects since it was founded in 1848, according to the BBC.
The Ghanaian-Scottish architect, author and educator was named by the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) as the 2024 recipient of the prestigious RIBA Royal Gold Medal. She joins Yasmeen Lari, winner of last year’s award, as the first-ever back-to-back solo female Royal Gold Medalist in RIBA history.
She was awarded for her work surrounding justice causes and other works seeking to “democratize architecture”, Euronews reported. Known for her work as an architecture teacher and academic in various institutions around the world, the 60-year-old was praised by RIBA for her “unwavering commitment to advancing architectural education and redressing imbalances by amplifying the voices of underrepresented people in shaping our built environment.”
In 2021, she founded the educational African Futures Institute (AFI) in Accra, Ghana, to further look at the complex relationship between architecture, identity, and race.
Lokko’s influence in the architectural world is also reflected in her roles as dean of the CCNY Spitzer School of Architecture and as a founding director of the Graduate School of Architecture at the University of Johannesburg. What’s more, she has taught in universities across the UK, the US, and Africa.
In 2023, she was awarded an OBE for services to architecture and education. Also, she became the first black curator of the International Architecture Biennale in Venice.
“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,” RIBA President, Muyiwa Oki, said.
He also described Lokko as a visionary agent of change and a “humble revolutionary force, with her ambition and optimism etching an indelible mark on the global architectural stage.”
On her part, Lokko said of her award: “It came as such a surprise to me. This was never on 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 organisations I have worked with that share my goals,” Lokko said.
“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.”