Grafton Architects win the 2020 Pritzker Prize
Yvonne Farrell and Shelley McNamara’s Dublin practice is singled out for its integrity
Unlike many big architects, Yvonne Farrell and Shelley McNamara of Grafton Architects tend to leave their egos out of their plans.
“In our increasingly globalized and pluralized world, where peripatetic international ‘star’ architects deposit their visually spectacular and easily identifiable ‘signature’ object-buildings in widely varied contexts with little to no regard to the unique characteristics and qualities of each locale it is important to state clearly that, in the practice of the best architects, place matters," writes Robert McCarter in our book on the architects.
Grafton certainly consider this sense of place. So, it is with some irony that these two deeply thoughtful, creative and unobtrusive architects should receive the starriest award in the architectural world: The Pritzker Prize.
News that the 2020 medal would go to Farrell and McNamara broke today, with the citation from the Pritzker judges that stressed the Dublin practice’s considered sense of place and principles.
“For their integrity in their approach to both their buildings, as well as the way they conduct their practice, their belief in collaboration, their generosity towards their colleagues, especially as evidenced in such events as the 2018 Venice Biennale, their unceasing commitment to excellence in architecture, their responsible attitude toward the environment, their ability to be cosmopolitan while embracing the uniqueness of each place in which they work, for all these reasons and more, Yvonne Farrell and Shelley McNamara are awarded the 2020 Pritzker Architecture Prize,” states the 2020 Jury Citation.
“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,” the statement went on.
Even the name of the practice indicates how Farrell and McNamara favoured place over self-importance. “We found a roof-lit studio space on the top floor of a building on Grafton Street, one of the main streets of Dublin, and decided to call ourselves after the street for two main reasons,” says McNamara in our book, “firstly, it represented a sense of the collective – not each individual – and secondly, it anchored us to a distinct place, which over time has become deeply embedded in our psyches.”
From that foundation in 1978, Farrell and McNamara began designing houses, public squares, schools and university campuses. The practice’s addition to Bocconi University in Milan won Building of the Year at 2008's World Architecture Festival; in 2016, the practice picked up the inaugural RIBA International Prize for its University Campus UTEC in Lima, Peru; Farrell and McNamara also curated the incredibly successful 2018 Venice Architecture Biennale; and this year, Grafton was also singled out as recipients for RIBA’s Royal Gold Medal, the organisation’s highest honour.
Despite all these laurels, the pair remain remarkably modest. “Architecture could be described as one of the most complex and important cultural activities on the planet,” Farrell said in response to the win. “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.”
To gain insight into the pair’s complex and important (but definitely not self-important) cultural activities, order a copy of Grafton Architects here.