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O’Donnell and Tuomey deserve the Royal Gold Medal

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O’Donnell and Tuomey are deserving recipients of this year’s Royal Gold Medal, says Richard Waite

No one would argue that Dublin’s architects’ architects Sheila O’Donnell and John Tuomey didn’t deserve to win the profession’s most prestigious accolade.

The husband and wife team who founded O’Donnell + Tuomey in 1988 are justifiably highly regarded for the way they craft buildings and how they have immersed themselves in every corner of ‘architecture’ - from their three-time appearance at the Venice Biennale to teaching at Harvard.

Over three decades, their work has developed style-wise ‘from mannered Neoclassicism in the European vein, to a highly crafted low-tech vernacular, through to a boisterous Constructivism’ - Niall McLaughlin’s elegant words, not mine.

Their buildings are overflowing with dynamic spaces, combined with unwavering attention to detail.

As Mary Duggan, of Duggan Morris, says: ‘There’s a consistent high quality about their work.

‘Each project is a judicious response to site and context, with a clever choreography of spaces. Bold and polite. Nimble and clumsy.’

Yet, regardless of the plaudits, the practice still remains best known as the perennial Stirling Prize runner-up, repeatedly missing out on the award, despite having been shortlisted five times.

This year the firm’s red-brick LSE student centre, which has been so cleverly whittled and carved to fit in with the surroundings, has been heavily backed and has become odds-on favourite with the bookies to scoop the 2014 gong for the ‘best building in the UK’. Of course, favourites don’t always win - especially in the Stirling Prize.

And landing the institute’s Gold Medal is no guarantee either that O’Donnell and Tuomey’s much-publicised and much-visited building will succeed in ending their Stirling Prize hoodoo.

The medal, which was first awarded in 1848, recognises a lifetime’s achievement and has been won by the likes of Mies van der Rohe, Norman Foster and Louis Kahn. It is not given in recognition of just a couple of showstoppers. Arguably the Saw Swee Hock student centre at the LSE is not even their best building. For some, the Lewis Glucksman Gallery in Cork (shortlisted in 2005) and the Lyric Theatre in Belfast (shortlisted in 2012) feature more ingenious, better-crafted spaces.

In 2011, the gossip from the judges was that the An Gaeláras cultural centre in Derry/Londonderry, with its ‘circulatory intrigue’ and impressive atrium, had almost made it, eventually coming a very close second to Zaha Hadid’s Evelyn Grace school.

But hats off. They are one of the youngest ever recipients of the medal which, given that there are others such as Zaha Hadid and Denise Scott Brown who are still waiting, shows the importance of their works to date. Perhaps on 16 October they’ll have something else to celebrate.

O'Donnell + Tuomey's Lyric Theatre

Source: Dennis Gilbert

O’Donnell + Tuomey’s Lyric Theatre in Belfast

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