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Lesley Lokko: Vision beyond boundaries

Muyiwa Oki

Muyiwa Oki celebrates Royal Gold Medallist Lesley Lokko, who reinforces the power of architecture to influence social progress

2024 Royal Gold Medallist Lesley Lokko.
2024 Royal Gold Medallist Lesley Lokko. Credit: Debra Hurford-Brown

In the intricate tapestry of global architecture, Professor Lesley Lokko emerges not just as an educator, but as a force reshaping the narrative and pushing the boundaries of the discipline. Her recent accolade of the Royal Gold Medal is not just an honour – it’s recognition of an architect whose influence transcends conventional limits.

Lokko’s African Futures Institute (AFI) in Accra, Ghana, is testament to her commitment to reimagining architecture through education. Beyond the conventional confines of academia, the AFI stands as a beacon of innovation, challenging established norms and reimagining the Global South as a crucible for future rapid urbanisation. In Lokko’s hands, architecture becomes a collaborative endeavour, fostering inclusivity and celebrating the contributions of women from the African diaspora.

Under Lokko’s curatorship, the 2023 Venice Biennale marked a pivotal moment in architectural history. Titled ‘The Laboratory of the Future,’ the event not only united diverse African architectural expressions but also ignited a profound discourse on decarbonisation and decolonisation. 

However, Lokko’s impact extends beyond prestigious events and accolades. Her involvement in London’s New Architecture Writers programme underscores her commitment to dismantling barriers for under-represented professionals. In a field often criticised for its lack of diversity, Lokko’s advocacy and actions are a refreshing departure from the status quo.

The RIBA Annie Spink Award for Excellence in Architectural Education, conferred upon Lokko in 2020, acknowledges her enduring efforts to bridge the gaps between race, identity and architecture. Her seminal work, ‘White Papers Black Marks’, continues to resonate more than two decades after its publication, a testament to the enduring relevance of her ideas.

Lesley Lokko is not just an architect; she is an agent for change. Her vision challenges the very essence of architecture, democratising it and making it accessible to all. Architecture, in Lokko’s hands, becomes a cultural dialogue, centred on ideas and content rather than mere function.

The decision to award Lokko the Royal Gold Medal was guided by the discerning honours committee which I led. Comprising the 2023 RGM recipient Yasmeen Lari, Ivan Harbour, Neal Shasore and Cindy Walters, the committee exemplifies the RIBA’s commitment to recognising excellence and fostering inclusivity in the architectural landscape.

As we celebrate Lokko’s legacy, we are reminded that architecture can be a powerful instrument for social change, critical exploration, vivid critique of the established norms, and an inspiring practice that shapes what the future can and should be.

See RIBA Journal's profile of Lesley Lokko and read Chris Foges' review of the Venice Biennale Lokko curated.