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Woman Architect of the Year shortlist: Sheila O’Donnell

Co-founder, O’Donnell + Tuomey Architects, Sheila O’Donnell creates buildings which ‘are appropriate to their use, time and place and that weather and age naturally’

Sheila O’Donnell is the co-founder of O’Donnell + Tuomey Architects. Her current projects include work for the Central European University in Budapest, a new primary school in Kilmallock, County Limerick, and a new student centre at the London School of Economics. The practice has been nominated for the Stirling Prize four times: for the Lyric Theatre in 2012, An Gaeláras Irish Language and Cultural Centre in 2011, the Lewis Glucksman Gallery in 2005 and the Ranelagh Multi Denominational School in 1999. O’Donnell currently teaches at University College Dublin.

Why did you become an architect?
I always enjoyed art, English and maths in school, and I felt architecture might combine what I liked in these subjects. I didn’t know exactly what architects do, but was still convinced that it was what I wanted.

What is your design ethos?
There is no simple answer to this question. We try to make buildings which are easy and comfortable to use, enhance people’s lives, are appropriate to their use, their time and their place and that weather and age naturally.

Which women architects inspire you?
I discovered the work of Eileen Gray when I was in my final year in University College Dublin. I was excited to find that there was a famous Irish woman architect. I’m inspired by the quality of her work, by her intense interest in craft and detail.

What is your advice to aspiring female architects?
Work hard. Only do it if you love it.

Why do women leave the profession?
It’s a difficult profession which makes enormous time demands on everyone, men and women, and which is poorly paid for the effort expended. It’s difficult to juggle personal life, and many women are still expected to take full responsibility for managing childcare. Buildings take so long to design and build that it’s difficult to take maternity leave.

What would make them stay?
Better arrangements for childcare; partners who are more supportive and prepared to share the role of bringing up children.

What is the biggest challenge facing women in architecture?
Balancing childcare and personal life will always be a challenge.

Central European University, Budapest

Central European University, Budapest

Place of study University College Dublin; RCA London (postgraduate study)
Current projects Central European University Budapest; Kilmallock primary school, Co Limerick; LSE Student Centre, London; St Angela’s College, Cork
Clients LSE; Central European University Budapest; Trinity College Dublin; Kilmallock School; St Angela’s College, Cork



Readers' comments (1)

  • Shelia is a wonderful person and a very inventive sensitive architect whose work responds to the user and the environment - nature , nature being most important as it does not need us but we need it .

    She deserves this accolade .

    John Meagher , deBlacam and Meagher Architects .

    Unsuitable or offensive?

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