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Pritzker Prize: Irish Women Win Architecture’s Highest Honour


Lauded for their collaborative and generous approach to the practice of architecture, Irish duo Yvonne Farrell and Shelley McNamara have been awarded the profession’s highest honour, the Pritzker Prize.

Farrell and McNamara, founders of the Dublin-based Grafton Architects, have built a solid reputation as architects and educators since the 1970s.

On Tuesday, more than 40 years after establishing their small Dublin practice as a cooperative, the pair were named the 2020 recipients of the prize often referred to as architecture’s Nobel.

Farrell and McNamara have had a comparatively high-profile few years, curating the 2018 Venice Biennale and receiving British architecture’s highest accolade, the RIBA Gold Medal, in late 2019.

▲ Yvonne Farrell and Shelley McNamara, 2020 Pritzker Prize recipients.
▲ Yvonne Farrell and Shelley McNamara, 2020 Pritzker Prize recipients.


Farrell and McNamara are outliers in a profession that often elevates the lone genius archetype.

The jury’s citation noted Farrell and McNamara’s “integrity in their approach” as well as their “belief in collaboration, their generosity towards their colleagues [and] their unceasing commitment to excellence in architecture”.

Of the 46 Pritzker Prize laureates, only three have been women—Zaha Hadid in 2014, Kazuyo Sejima in 2010 and Carme Pigem in 2017—so Farrell and McNamara’s win makes them “pioneers” in a male-dominated profession, the jury said.

Town House Kingson University, Grafton Architects
▲ Town House, Kingston University London. Image: Grafton Architects


Grafton Architects is currently working on a building for the London School of Economics and opened its first UK brief—the Town House in Kingston—in January.

Pritzker chairman Tom Pritzker said the pair uphold a “reverence of site-specific contexts”.

“They demonstrate incredible strength in their architecture [and] show deep relation to the local situation in all regards.”

London School of Economics, Grafton Architects
▲ London School of Economics. Image: Grafton Architects


The jury described Grafton Architects’ brutalist University Campus in Peru as “a vertical and cascading building responding to both site and climatic needs”—the modernist campus was awarded RIBA’s international prize in 2016.

“Architecture could be described as one of the most complex and important cultural activities on the planet,” Farrell said.

“To be an architect is an enormous privilege. To win this prize is a wonderful endorsement of our belief in architecture.”

University of Luigi Bocconi
▲ University of Luigi Bocconi. Image: Grafton Architects


Farrell and McNamara join past laureates in the Prtizker canon Oscar Niemeyer, Luis Barragán, Jean Nouvel and Tadao Ando.

Glenn Murcutt remains Australia’s only Pritzker Prize laureate. Sydney Opera House architect Jørn Utzon was awarded the Pritzker in 2003.

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Article originally posted at: https://theurbandeveloper.com/articles/pritzker-prize-2020-winners