The Royal Gold Medal was established by the Royal Institute of British Architects in 1848 and is still awarded and celebrated today. It was conceived as a result of a conversation between the then President of the Institute of British Architects, Earl de Grey, and Prince Albert.
The idea for a gold medal came about in 1846. Originally it was to be awarded to the winner of a design competition of 'a building suitable to house the Institute and its daily operations' – an idea that received Royal approval from Buckingham Palace. But after receiving only 11 entries, mostly of little merit, the Institute decided to drop the idea.
Instead, Earl de Grey revisited the idea and offered a fresh approach to Queen Victoria via Prince Albert. At the Prince’s suggestion, it was agreed that the medal should be 'conferred on some distinguished architect for work of high merit, or on some distinguished person whose work has promoted either directly or indirectly the advancement of architecture'.
As part of the RIBA's 175 anniversary celebrations, the medal was presented by Her Majesty the Queen at a private audience at Buckingham Palace in February 2009. This was only the fourth time the medal had been presented by the Queen in person. The Institute commissioned William Wyon, Chief Engraver of the Royal Mint, to create the medal. Vice-President of the Institute Ambrose Poynter designed the reverse showing a laurel wreath encircling text and the coat of arms of the Institute. The name of the winner is inscribed around the edge of the medal.
The award is for a body of work, rather than for one building or for an architect who is currently fashionable. Previous winners include Le Corbusier (1953), Frank Gehry (2000),Archigram (2002), Frei Otto (2005), Toyo Ito (2006), Herzog and de Meuron (2007),Edward (Ted) Cullinan (2008), Alvaro Siza (2009), I. M. Pei (2010), Sir David Chipperfield(2011), Herman Hertzberger (2012) and Peter Zumthor (2013)
Today the Royal Gold Medal is still made by the Royal Mint. As the gift of the monarch, it shares a coveted status of just one of 25 Royal Prize Medals awarded on an annual basis.