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Grafton Architects wins Royal Gold Medal


Dublin-based Grafton Architects, headed by Yvonne Farrell and Shelley McNamara, has won the 2020 RIBA Royal Gold Medal – the UK’s highest honour for architecture

The RIBA said the practice had been nominated by a ‘roll call of significant names from the worlds of academia, arts and architecture, major clients and renowned architects’.

The award, which is approved personally by the Queen, was given in recognition of the ‘people-centred practice’s impressive portfolio of projects’ across the globe.

Among the practice’s most famous schemes are University of Limerick Medical School, which was shortlisted for the RIBA Stirling Prize in 2013, and the new ‘vertical campus’ building for Lima’s specialist engineering university (UTEC) in Peru which scooped the inaugural RIBA International Prize in 2016.

Utec universidad de ingenieria y tecnologia pressimage iwan baan 1

Utec universidad de ingenieria y tecnologia pressimage iwan baan 1

Grafton is currently working on The Marshall Building for the London School of Economics (LSE); the Town House building for Kingston University London; the School of Economics for the University Toulouse 1 Capitole in France; Institute Mines Telecom University Building in Paris-Saclay; the City Library & Parnell Square Cultural Quarter project in Dublin, with Shaffery Architects; and the new HQ for the Electricity Supply Board in Dublin with O’Mahony Pike architects. 

All were won through international competition.

Few women have ever won the RIBA Gold Medal since its inception in 1848, with only the late Zaha Hadid having received it in her own right (in 2016). The only other women to receive it did so as half of a couple: Sheila O’Donnell (with John Tuomey, 2015); Patty Hopkins (with Michael Hopkins, 1994) and Ray Eames (with Charles Eames, 1979).

Earlier this year, Part W, an action group of women working across architecture, design, infrastructure and construction campaigning for gender parity in the built environment, encouraged people to nominate more women for the award.

Farrell and McNamara set up Grafton Architects in Dublin in 1978 and  currently work alongside directors Gerard Carty and Philippe O’Sullivan, who joined the practice in 1992.

Shelley and yvonne with utec model ©grafton

Grafton Architects - Shelley McNamara (left) and Yvonne Farrell (right) with a model of the UTEC in Lima

Grafton Architects - Shelley McNamara (left) and Yvonne Farrell (right) with a model of the UTEC in Lima

The practice’s name was inspired by their original office on Grafton Street in central Dublin. As part of Group ’91 - a collective of eight young practices - in the 1990s, they were involved in the regeneration of Dublin’s Temple Bar district.

In 2015 Farrell and McNamara picked up the 2015 Jane Drew Prize.

Grafton Architects’ directors have taught around the world and, in 2018, Farrell and McNamara curated the Venice Architecture Biennale, with the theme of ’Freespace’ emphasising on humanity and generosity. These principles, the RIBA added, ‘run throughout their own practice’.

Responding to the news, the pair said: ‘Like architects around the world, everyone in Grafton Architects works hard to give each project the attention needed to hopefully enrich people’s lives. For us, architecture is an optimistic profession, with the opportunity to anticipate future realities. It is of the highest cultural importance because it is the built enclosure of human lives. It translates people’s needs and dreams into built form, into the silent language of space.

‘We share this honour with all our clients, design teams, contractors and colleagues – past and current – working together, we translate ideas into reality.’

They added: ‘[This] is a very special and happy moment in our lives. A sincere thank you to all those involved in making it possible!’

RIBA president Alan Jones said: ‘From designing houses in windswept rural landscapes to substantial inner-city university projects, from curating and contributing to world-class exhibitions to teaching within some of the world’s leading schools of architecture, the scale and scope of Grafton Architects’ influence is extraordinary. Their extensive talent and generosity of spirit are an inspiration, not only to me and my fellow architects but to all those who have had the pleasure of engaging directly with them and their work.’

Their extensive talent and generosity of spirit are an inspiration

He added: ‘Grafton Architects are impressive role models. Their work, philosophy and ambition are of profound importance, not just in their home country and the UK but across the globe. They show us all how architecture, practised humbly and humanely, can make the world a better place.

The Royal Gold Medal will be presented to Grafton Architects at a special ceremony in early 2020.


Readers' comments (4)

  • Grafton Architects, with are among a group of exceptional Irish architects of international acclaim. Thoughtful, poetic, sensitive to context and passionate .

    I was commissioned by The Irish Times to write about Irish architecture almost 20 years ago and compare it to Scotland.


    Other buildings of interest include those of Shane O'Toole, Paul Keogh, Grafton Architects and Shay Cleary Architects. Their projects are small-scale but well defined. What is most satisfying about their buildings is that they do not sit in isolation but each contributes towards the success of the other. The scale, material and detail, is consistent and restrained. The buildings are contextual and Irish."

    Many congratulations.

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  • It might be of interest, or maybe not.

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  • Please don’t make this a gender issue. They are obviously talented and international architects. Is the fact that most of the practice is Irish relevant? The world is benefitting from a happy collaboration. So Friday, after work. A bar fronting the Liffey? A portrait of artisans and artists as young people?? Long may it last.

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  • Angela Brady

    So pleased this #DymanicDuo have been honoured with the #RoyalGoldMedal which they absolutely deserve for their body of great work and they are an inspiration to architects and students alike worldwide

    Angela Brady OBE PPRIBA

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