Irish Architects bag Pritzker Prize for 2020
Yvonne Farrell and Shelley McNamara of Dublin, Ireland, have been selected as the 2020 Pritzker Prize Laureates according to Tom Pritzker, Chairman of The Hyatt Foundation, which sponsors the Pritzker often known as architecture’s highest honour.
“Architecture is a framework for human life. It anchors us and connects us to the world in a way which possibly no other space-making discipline can. At the core of our practice is a real belief that architecture matters. It is a cultural spatial phenomenon that people invent.”
Yvonne Farrell & Shelley McNamara.
Co-founding their professional practice, called Grafton Architects, in Dublin, Ireland in 1978, Farrell and McNamara 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.
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. Many of their buildings are located in Ireland, but through competitions, they have won major commissions for other places around the world, such as Italy, France, and Peru.
“The collaboration between Yvonne Farrell and Shelley McNamara represents a veritable interconnectedness between equal counterparts,” states Pritzker. “They demonstrate incredible strength in their architecture, show deep relation to the local situation in all regards, establish different responses to each commission while maintaining the honesty of their work, and exceed the requirements of the field through responsibility and community.”
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 the “spirit of place” means that their works enhance and improve the local community. Their buildings are “good neighbours” that seeks to make a contribution beyond the boundaries of the building and to make a city work better.
“Architecture could be described as one of the most complex and important cultural activities on the planet,” remarks Farrell. “To be an architect is an enormous privilege. To win this prize is a wonderful endorsement of our belief in architecture. Thank you for this great honour.”
“Within the ethos of 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,” says McNamara. “It is also a wonderful recognition of the ambition and vision of the clients who commissioned us and enabled us to bring our buildings to fruition.”
Various Buildings that demonstrate the conscious dialogue between site and structure
1 University Campus UTEC Lima (Lima, Peru 2015)
Situated on a difficult site with a busy motorway to one side and the low-rise urban edge of the city on the other, the University of Technology and Engineering, UTEC Lima, is a vertical and layered building inspired by the cliffs of its city. “The north side of the building serves as a ‘new cliff,’ while the south features cascading gardens and open spaces that seek to integrate with the lower urban scale of this part of the district.”
The architects have created a muscular building with raw concrete finishes, some say reminiscent of brutalism. Structure and architectural spaces work together to form a new circulation landscape. The section naturally creates numerous spontaneous and humane gathering spaces throughout the building.
Larger scale volumes are located close to the ground, with the teaching, administration and teacher office areas staggered at higher levels. In the upper levels near the roof is the library with panoramic views of the city and the sea. In summary, this is a distinctive vertical campus structure responding to the temperate climatic conditions and referencing Peru’s terrain and heritage.
2 Offices for the Department of Finance (Dublin, Ireland 2009)
The Offices for the Department of Finance are located on a challenging site in the center of Dublin, informed by the public park of St. Stephen’s Green, the Huguenot Cemetery and the 18th-century Georgian street context. “The new building belongs to a tradition of buildings in Dublin, where significant buildings negotiate dramatic changes in scale at junctions in streetscape throughout the city.” The new Department building is six stories plus a basement and brings the Department of Finance staff together in a single location.
In this building, 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.
3 Universita Luigi Bocconi (Milan, Italy 2008)
The winner of the World Building of the Year 2008 award, the massive stone-clad construction can be thought of as having three distinct parts: the sunken volume, which houses, among other things, the impressive aula magna, the ground floor of flowing spaces and the more functional boxes “floating” above. The aula magna occupies the main frontage and provides a symbolic presence. The use of large openings and multiple vistas means that light filters throughout the building and visitors are drawn into the life of the interior.
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.
4 Université Toulouse 1 Capitole, School of Economics (Toulouse, France 2019)
This building features brick buttresses, ramps, and courtyards, which are metaphors for the city filled with bridges, walls, promenades and stone towers. Located at a turning point of the Canal de Garonne, the site of the new School of Economics is important for the university and the city. The new building, with seven stories above ground and two basements, is, according to the architects, “a composition of the re-interpreted elements of Toulouse: the buttresses, the walls, the ramps, the cool mysterious interiors, the cloisters, and the courtyards.”
In order to provide places of research and education that are pleasurable to work in, the architects have devised a building strategy to maximize natural air, light, and ventilation to each space within the building from offices to seminar rooms to terraces. This allows them to position larger volumes with very little fenestration to act as a “deep wall,” controlling light, shadow, and shade.
5 The Town House Building Kingston University, 2019
This building is composed of large, interconnected halls and double and triple-height spaces that overlap—physically and visually. The entrance lobby extends almost to the full height of the building, with staircases suspended from floorplates, adding a sculptural touch and physically weaving the layers of the building together. The architects have said, “University projects are miniature cities. There are three layers—administrators and professionals, lecture facilities, and then there is the city. The Town House Building includes a learning resource center, dance studio, covered courtyard, café and is developed alongside a new landscaping scheme across the front of the campus. The six-story building of open-plan interiors is unified and enveloped by the stone colonnades that form the facades of the building.
6 Institut Mines Télécom, Paris, France, 2019
This 46,200m2 building is home to Institut Mines Télécom, Télécom Paristech and Télécom SudParis in Palaiseau and serves a community of scholars, professors and students. The generous placement of open spaces, windows, glass curtain walls and exposed ceilings allow natural light to filter through a passage of rooms, creating impressions of light through large and small spaces and within the interlocking areas that comprise its five courtyards and quadrangle. “The master plan proposes streets, squares, and boulevards with the poetic integration of landscape and ecology, as it refers to the legacy of the great tradition of educational institutions with their lawns, quadrangles, cloisters, and courtyards.”
The generous placement of open spaces, windows, glass curtain walls, and exposed ceilings allows natural light to filter through a passage of rooms, creating impressions of light through large and small spaces, and within the interlocking areas that compose Institut Mines Télécom in Palaiseau (Paris, France 2019).
7 Urban Institute of Ireland (UII) at University College Dublin
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.
McNamara states, “Architecture is a framework for human life. It anchors us and connects us to the world in a way that possibly no other space-making discipline can.” Farrell continues, “At the core of our practice is a real belief that architecture matters. It is a cultural spatial phenomenon that people invent.”
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
Farrell and McNamara have mastered proportion to maintain a human scale and achieve intimate environments within tall and vast buildings. “They have tried, with considerable success, to help us all overcome what is likely to evermore become a serious human problem,” explains Justice Stephen Breyer, Jury Chair. “Namely, how do we build housing and workplaces in a world with over half of its population dwelling in urban environments, and many of them who cannot afford luxury?”