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Yvonne Farrell and Shelley McNamara. Courtesy of the Pritzker Architecture Prize.
Yvonne Farrell and Shelley McNamara. Courtesy of the Pritzker Architecture Prize.

Yvonne Farrell and Shelley McNamara Win 2020 Pritzker Prize

Architects Yvonne Farrell and Shelley McNamara of Dublin have been named the 2020 winners of the Pritzker Architecture Prize. The Tuesday morning announcement marks the first time the field’s highest honor has been shared by two women. The pair, who first met at the School of Architecture at the University College Dublin in the 1970s, were recognized for their honest approach to their profession, belief in collaboration, and ability to design buildings in dialogue with their surroundings.

“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,” the prize jury citation reads. “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.”

While Farrell and McNamara are best known for their work in their home country of Ireland, they have also completed major commissions in Italy, France, and Peru such as the Università Luigi Bocconi in Milan (2008), the University Campus UTEC Lima (2015), and the Institut Mines Télécom in Palaiseau, Paris (2019). Among their projects in Dublin are the Offices for the Department of Finance (2009), the Urban Institute of Ireland (2002), and the Parnell Square Cultural Quarter, for which they have designed a library with Shaffrey Associates Architects, which is slated to open in 2023.

Farrell and McNamara established their professional practice, Grafton Architects, with three colleagues in 1978. The firm is named after the street of their original office space rather than its founders—an example of the architects’ belief that place and community should be prioritized over individuals. Out of the five original partners, Farrell and McNamara are the only two that remain. The architects are also longtime educators who have held the Kenzo Tange chair at the Harvard Graduate School of Design (2010) and the Louis Kahn chair at Yale University (2011) and have taught at numerous institutions, including the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne and the Academia di Architettura di Mendrisio.

In 2012, Grafton Architects received the Silver Lion at the Venice Architecture Biennale for their exhibition “Architecture as New Geography,” and in 2016, they were appointed cocurators of “Freespace,” the sixteenth iteration of the international event. In 2019, they were awarded the Royal Institute of the Architects of Ireland’s James Gandon Medal for Lifetime Achievement in Architecture, and earlier this year, they were also given the Royal Institute of British Architects’ Royal Gold Medal.

Commenting on winning the Pritzker Prize, McNamara said: “Within the ethos of a practice such as ours, we have so often struggled to find space for the implementation of such values as humanism, craft, generosity, and cultural connection with each place and context within which we work. It is therefore extremely gratifying that this recognition is bestowed upon us and our practice and upon the body of work we have managed to produce over a long number of years.”

University Campus UTEC Lima. Photo: Iwan Baan.