Yvonne Farrell and Shelley McNamara Win 2020 Pritzker Prize

John Hill
3. March 2020
Yvonne Farrell and Shelley McNamara (All photos courtesy of Pritzker Architecture Prize)

Tom Pritzker, chairman of The Foundation, has announced that Irish architects Yvonne Farrell and Shelley McNamara of Grafton Architects are the 2020 laureates of the annual Pritzker Architecture Prize, considered architecture's highest honor.

Farrell and McNamara, who founded Grafton Architects in Dublin in 1978, are the 47th and 48th recipients of the Pritzker Architecture Prize, which started in 1979. They are only the fourth and fifth women to win the accolade, though, following Zaha Hadid (2004), Kazuyo Sejima (2010), and Carme Pigem (2017). Like Sejima and Pigem, as well as Jacques Herzog and Pierre de Meuron in 2001, Farrell and McNamara are being recognized as a team, not as individual architects – or "sole geniuses" – as tends to be the norm with Pritzker laureates. 

Farrell and McNamara's Pritzker Prize victory – the first for architects from Ireland, it should be noted – follows numerous accolades and attention bestowed upon them and their practice in recent years. Most recently, the Royal Institute of British Architects announced the duo as the 2020 recipient of the Royal Gold Medal, RIBA's highest honor. Two years earlier they helmed the Venice Architecture Biennale, titled FREESPACE. And two years before that, in late 2016, their UTEC building in Lima, Peru, was awarded the inaugural RIBA International Prize

World-Architects will have more coverage of the 2020 Pritzker Architecture Prize following today's announcement.
Projects in bold are illustrated with photos at the bottom of this post.
Edited statement from the Pritzker Architecture Prize:

Yvonne Farrell and Shelley McNamara of Dublin, Ireland, have been selected as the 2020 Pritzker Prize Laureates, announced Tom Pritzker, Chairman of The Hyatt Foundation, which sponsors the award that is known internationally as architecture’s highest honor.

As architects and educators since the 1970s, Farrell and McNamara create spaces that are at once respectful and new, honoring history while demonstrating a mastery of the urban environment and craft of construction. Balancing strength and delicacy, and upholding a reverence of site-specific contexts, their academic, civic and cultural institutions, as well as housing developments, result in modern and impactful works that never repeat or imitate, but are decidedly of their own architectural voice.

Their native Ireland, an island replete with mountains and cliffs, informs their acute sensitivities to geography, changing climates and nature in each of their sites. Their buildings consistently remain purposefully rich, yet modest, enhancing cities and lending to sustainability while responding to local needs. University Campus UTEC Lima (Lima, Peru 2015) is located on a challenging site with a highway sunk in a ravine on one side and a residential neighborhood on the other. The result is a vertical and cascading building responding to both site and climatic needs. Its open spaces were designed to deliberately welcome cooling breezes of the ocean and minimize the need for air-conditioning. At the Offices for the Department of Finance (Dublin, Ireland 2009), the selection of local limestone used in thick panels grants strength to the building. Windows recessed or flush with the façade have grills below them to circulate fresh air throughout the building. Exposures on all sides of the building, atypical of the architecture in this city, offer panoramic views.

The architects are continuously conscious of the dialogue between the internal and external, evidenced by the mingling of public and private spaces, and the meaningful selection and integrity of materials. “What we try to do in our work is to be aware of the various levels of citizenship and try to find an architecture that deals with overlap, that heightens your relationship to one another,” illustrates Farrell. Universita Luigi Bocconi (Milan, Italy 2008) fosters community between its occupants and the vibrant city that extends well beyond the vertical campus through its ground floor public space, which continues indoors, and its floating canopy that overlaps the ground below, engaging passersby with students. Université Toulouse 1 Capitole, School of Economics (Toulouse, France 2019) is encased in concrete and stone that has been quarried from nearby Lake Iseo. Its brick buttresses, ramps and courtyards are a metaphor for the city filled with bridges, walls, promenades and stone towers. North King Street Housing (Dublin, Ireland 2000) is intentionally void of external design elements to resonate with the restraint of the neighboring warehouses.

The pair established Grafton Architects in 1978 in Dublin, where they continue to practice and reside. In just over forty years, they have completed nearly as many projects, located in Ireland, the United Kingdom, France, Italy and Peru.

Farrell and McNamara are the 47th and 48th Laureates of the Pritzker Prize, and the first two recipients from Ireland.

The jury for the 2020 Pritzker Architecture Prize:

  • Stephen Breyer (Jury Chair), U.S. Supreme Court Justice, Washington, D.C., USA
  • André Aranha Corrêa do Lago, architectural critic, curator, and Brazilian Ambassador to India, Delhi
  • Barry Bergdoll, Meyer Schapiro Professor of Art History and Archaeology at Columbia University, New York
  • Deborah Berke, founder of Deborah Berke Partners, New York, and Dean of the Yale School of Architecture, New Haven, Connecticut
  • Kazuyo Sejima, architect and 2010 Pritzker Laureate, Tokyo, Japan
  • Benedetta Tagliabue, architect and director of EMBT Miralles Tagliabue, Barcelona, Spain
  • Wang Shu, architect, educator, and 2012 Pritzker Laureate, Hangzhou, China
  • Martha Thorne (Executive Director), Dean, IE School of Architecture & Design, Madrid, Spain

Jury citation for the 2020 Prize:

Yvonne Farrell and Shelley McNamara have practiced architecture together for forty years in a way that clearly reflects the objectives of the Pritzker Prize: to recognize the art of architecture and consistent service to humanity as evidenced through a body of built work.

Co-founding their professional practice, called Grafton Architects, in Dublin, Ireland in 1978, they have consistently and unhesitatingly pursued the highest quality of architecture for the specific location in which it was to be built, the functions it would house and especially for the people who would inhabit and use their buildings and spaces. They have an oeuvre that includes numerous educational buildings, housing and cultural and civic institutions. Pioneers in a field that has traditionally been and still is a male-dominated profession, they are also beacons to others as they forge their exemplary professional path.

Many of their buildings are located in their home country of Ireland, but through competitions, they have won major commissions for other places around the world, such as Italy, France and Peru. With a profound understanding of place gained through their research, keen powers of observation, open and ever curious explorations and deep respect for culture and context, Farrell and McNamara are able to make their buildings respond to a setting and city most appropriately, while still being fresh and modern. This deep understanding of “spirit of place” means that their works enhance and improve the local community. Their buildings are “good neighbors” that seek to make a contribution beyond the boundaries of the building and to make a city work better. Their North King Street Housing in Dublin (2000) is one example of this: it creates an inner courtyard and a welcome respite from the adjacent busy streets.

Their approach to architecture is always honest, revealing an understanding of the processes of design and construction from large scale structures to the smallest details. It is often in these details, especially in buildings with modest budgets, where a big impact can be felt. For example, the Urban Institute of Ireland (Dublin, 2002) employs what the architects call a “crafted skin” to create a visually interesting building through changes in materials responding to openings, folds, needs for shade and other concerns. At the same time, it employs common sense, good-practice environmental control methodologies for an efficient, sustainable building. On a particularly sensitive site in Dublin, the masterful Offices for the Department of Finance (2009) attests to their knowledge and care in the selection of materials and construction techniques with a carefully handcrafted bronze railing and gate and sanded limestone on the facades.

The architects are skilled and successful working at many scales—from large institutional buildings to a house of only a little more than 100 square meters. Without grand or frivolous gestures, they have managed to create buildings that are monumental institutional presences when appropriate, but even so they are zoned and detailed in such a way as to produce more intimate spaces that create community within. In their large buildings such as the University Campus UTEC (2015) in Lima, Peru or the School of Economics Building (2008) at Universita Luigi Bocconi, they have achieved a human scale through the composition of spaces and volumes of different sizes. The dialogues they create between buildings and surroundings demonstrate a new appreciation of both their works and place.

A constant in their approach, the architects have an understanding of how to design complex sections of buildings in such a way that views connect deep interior spaces with the larger exterior realm and allow natural light to penetrate and animate spaces deep inside a building. Often light streams from skylights or upper story windows throughout the interiors of their buildings, providing warmth and visual interest, helping the inhabitants easily orient themselves in the spaces, and providing the ever necessary connection to the exterior.

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.

Selected projects by Yvonne Farrell and Shelley McNamara

University Campus UTEC Lima (Photo: Iwan Baan)
Offices for the Department of Finance (Photo: Grafton Architects)
Universita Luigi Bocconi (Photo: Alexandre Soria)
Université Toulouse 1 Capitole, School of Economics (Photo: Dennis Gilbert)
Urban Institute of Ireland (Photo: Ros Kavanagh)
Loreto Community School (Photo: Ros Kavanagh)
Institut Mines Télécom (Photo: Alexandre Soria)
Town House Building, Kingston University (Photo: Ed Reeves)
Medical School, University of Limerick (Photo: Dennis Gilbert)
Parnell Square Cultural Quarter, City Library (Visualization: Grafton Architects)

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