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Pritzker Prize 2020 goes to Grafton co-founders: ‘pioneers in a male-dominated profession’

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The co-founders of Grafton Architects, Yvonne Farrell and Shelley McNamara, have won the 2020 Pritzker Prize, adding another award to their bursting trophy cabinet

The Pritzker jury awarded them the prize for their ‘unceasing commitment to excellence’, the integrity of their design approach and for being ‘pioneers’ in a male-dominated profession.

Farrell, 69, and McNamara, 68, who founded Grafton Architects in Dublin in 1978, become the first Irish winners of the prestigious international accolade which comes with a sum of $100,000 (£72,000).

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 ‘vertical campus’ building for Lima’s specialist engineering university (UTEC) in Peru, which scooped the inaugural RIBA International Prize in 2016.

Farrell and McNamara have also taught around the world while, in 2018, they curated the Venice Architecture Biennale, with the theme of ‘Freespace’ emphasising humanity and generosity. 

It has been an extraordinary 12 months for the duo, who at the end of last year won the RIBA Gold Medal 2020 for their practice, the UK’s highest honour for architecture. 

In response to winning the Pritzker prize, Farrell said: ‘Architecture could be described as one of the most complex and important cultural activities on the planet. 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.’

Grafton's University Campus UTEC Lima, Lima, Peru

Grafton’s University Campus UTEC Lima, Lima, Peru

Grafton’s University Campus UTEC Lima, Lima, Peru

The Pritzker jury praised the way in which projects like North King Street Housing in Dublin are ‘good neighbours’ that seek to make a city work better as well as the big impact of small details such as the ‘crafted skin’ façade on the Urban Institute of Ireland, also in Dublin.

The architects were also held up for their skill across different scales—from large institutional buildings such as UTEC in Lima and the School of Economics Building at Universita Luigi Bocconito to a house of little more than 100m².

‘Without grand or frivolous gestures, they have managed to create buildings that are monumental institutional presences when appropriate,’ the jury said, ‘but even so they are zoned and detailed in such a way as to produce more intimate spaces that create community within.’ 

Without grand or frivolous gestures, they have managed to create buildings that are monumental institutional presences

The citation added: ‘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.

‘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.’

Grafton’s new £50 million ‘Town House’ building for Kingston University in London completed at the end of last year.

Yvonne and shelley smiling ©grafton

Yvonne and shelley smiling ©grafton

Pritzker winners

2020 Yvonne Farrell (69) and Shelley McNamara (68), Ireland

2019 Arata Isozaki (87), Japan

2018 Balkrishna Vithaldas Doshi (90), India

2017 Rafael Aranda (55) Carme Pigem (54) and Ramon Vilalta (56) of RCR Arquitectes, Spain

2016 Alejandro Aravena (48), Chile

2015 Frei Otto (89), Germany

2014 Shigeru Ban (56), Japan

2013 Toyo Ito (71), Japan

2012 Wang Shu (48), China

2011 Eduardo Souto de Moura (58), Portugal

2010 Kazuyo Sejima (54) and Ryue Nishizawa (44), Japan

2009 Peter Zumthor (65), Switzerland

2008 Jean Nouvel (62), France

2007 Richard Rogers (73), UK

2006 Paulo Mendes da Rocha (77), Brazil

2005 Thom Mayne (61), USA

2004 Zaha Hadid (53), UK

2003 Jorn Utzon (84), Denmark

2002 Glenn Murcutt (66), Australia

2001 Jacques Herzog and Pierre de Meuron (51), Switzerland

2000 Rem Koolhaas (56), Netherlands

1999 Norman Foster (63), UK

1998 Renzo Piano (60), Italy

1997 Sverre Fehn (72), Norway

1996 Rafael Moneo (58), Spain

1995 Tadao Ando (53), Japan

1994 Christian de Portzamparc (50), France

1993 Fumihiko Maki (65), Japan

1992 Alvaro Siza (57), Portugal

1991 Robert Venturi (65), USA

1990 Aldo Rossi, (59), Italy

1989 Frank Gehry (60), USA

=1988 Oscar Niemeyer (81), Brazil

=1988 Gordon Bunshaft (79), USA

1987 Kenzo Tange (73), Japan

1986 Gottfried Bohm (66), Germany

1985 Hans Hollein (51), Austria

1984 Richard Meier (49), USA

1983 IM Pei (66), China

1982 Kevin Roche (60), USA

1981 James Stirling (55), UK

1980 Luis Barragan (78), Mexico

1979 Philip Johnson (73), USA


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