Every year, the work and career of an architect or group of architects is acknowledged through the Pritzker Architecture Prize. The award was born in 1979 and seeks to celebrate significative achievements by a member of the architectural community, whose work reflects not only talent, vision, and commitment, but which is also a contribution for humanity.
This time, the Prize (which in addition to the acknowledgment consists of a bronze medal and $100,000 USD) was given to architects Yvonne Farrell and Shelley McNamara, cofounders of Grafton Architects.
“Architecture could be described as one of the most complex and important cultural activities on the planet. Being an architect is a huge privilege. Winning this prize is a wonderful acknowledgment to our faith in architecture”, Farrell expressed through a statement.
The jury saw in their work the ability to create spaces that are both respectful and new, since their creations honor history, time, exalting the urban environment and new building techniques. This recognition describes their work as a balance between strength and fragility, whose outcome are always unique modern and high impact buildings.
“For their integrity in their approach to both their buildings, as well as the way they conduct their practice, their belief in collaboration, their generosity towards their colleagues, especially as evidenced in such events as the 2018 Venice Biennale, their unceasing commitment to excellence in architecture, their responsible attitude toward the environment, their ability to be cosmopolitan while embracing the uniqueness of each place in which they work, for all these reasons and more, Yvonne Farrell and Shelley McNamara are awarded the 2020 Pritzker Architecture Prize”, states this year’s jury citation.
The laureates met at the University College Dublin’s School of Architecture, where they also taught from the year they graduated (1976) and through 2015. They began their career in their homeland, where they acquired experience and grew professionally for 25 years.
In 1978 they decided to establish Grafton Architects and focused on creating big projects in Ireland, ranging from housing complexes to government offices and spaces in universities. Unlike other architectural firms, McNamara and Farrell did not put their last names on the company name, instead they gave priority to the space, highlighting the essence of architecture and the firm took the name of the street where they opened their first office.
Some of the most iconic projects in Ireland include the housing complex on North King Street in Dublin, the Urban Institute of Ireland, University College Dublin, Solstice Arts Centre, Loreto Community School, the offices of the Department of Finance and the School of Medicine of Limerick University.
Their first international project was essential for their career outside their country, earning them global prestige. They worked with the Universitá Luigi Bocconi in Milan in 2008. This project got the World Building of the Year Award during the World Architecture Festival in Barcelona. From that moment, they started winning projects in different locations across the world, like the UTEC University in Lima in 2015, which is inspired by cliffs separating the city from the ocean and whose concept made them win the RIBA International Prize, given by the Royal Institute of British Architects. Other creations outside their homeland include the Institut Mines Télécom in Paris and the School of Economics of the Université Toulouse 1 Capitole in Toulouse, which was finished last year.
Among the acknowledgements they have received along their careers, the Silver Lion of the Venice Biennale in 2012, given to their exhibition “Architecture as New Geography”. Six years later, McNamara and Farrell were appointed curators for the 16th International Architecture Exhibition of the Biennale di Venezia. In 2019, they earned the RIAI James Gandon Medal for Lifetime Achievement in Architecture on behalf of the RIAI (The Royal Institute of the Architects of Ireland), and one year later they won the RIBA Royal Gold Medal (Royal Institute of British Architects).
They are members of The Royal Institute of the Architects of Ireland and also RIBA International and Honorary Fellows (Royal Institute of British Architects). Also, they have occupied prestigious positions in universities, like the Kenzo Tange Chair in Harvard Graduate School of Design in 2010 and the Louis Kahn Chair in Yale University in 2011.