Yvonne Farrell (1951) and Shelley McNamara (1952) met during their collegiate studies at the School of Architecture at University College Dublin (UCD). They studied under rationalist architects who had newly arrived to challenge the preexisting thought and culture of the institution. Upon graduating in 1976, they were each offered the unique opportunity to teach at UCD, where they continued to educate until 2006, and were appointed as adjunct professors in 2015. “Teaching for us has always been a parallel reality,” comments Farrell. “And it’s a way of trying to distill our experience and gift it to other generations coming along so that they actually play a role in the growing of that culture. So it’s a two way thing, we learn from students and hopefully students learn from us.”

Yvonne Farrell and Shelley McNamara
Shelley McNamara and Yvonne Farrell while students at UCD, 1974

In 1978, Farrell and McNamara, along with three others, established Grafton Architects, named after the street of their original office to prioritize the existence of place, rather than individuals. Significant projects have included North King Street Housing (Dublin, Ireland 2000); Urban Institute of Ireland, University College Dublin (Dublin, Ireland 2002); Solstice Arts Centre (Navan, Ireland 2007); Loreto Community School (Milford, Ireland 2006); Offices for the Department of Finance (Dublin, Ireland 2009); and Medical School, University of Limerick (Limerick, Ireland 2012).

Reflecting on their childhoods, McNamara recalls, “My awakening to the experience of architecture was a visit as a child to an enormous 18th-century house on the beautiful main street of the city of Limerick where my aunt lived. Her husband had a beautiful mahogany lined pharmacy shop on the ground floor, and she ran a little Montessori school in a room over the entrance hall. This aroused a sense of wonder as to what a house could be and I remember vividly the sensation of space and light, which was an absolute revelation to me.”

Medical School, University of Limerick
Medical School, University of Limerick, photo courtesy of Dennis Gilbert

 

Institut Mines Télécom
Institut Mines Télécom, photo courtesy of Alexandre Soria

Farrell shares, “One of my earliest memories is of lying on my back on a cushion on the floor underneath the baby grand piano we had at home. While my mother played the piano above me, I remember being aware of the wonderful space filled with music under that walnut instrument. I grew up in Tullamore, Co. Offaly, Ireland—a town of streets and squares, stone warehouses, crafted houses and a canal that cut a wonderful line into the landscape. An oak forest at the edge of the town had a carpet of bluebells every spring. Nature felt very close.”

Of the five original partners, only Farrell and McNamara stayed. Their first international commission away from their native Ireland transpired 25 years later, with Universita Luigi Bocconi in Milan (Milan, Italy 2008), which was awarded World Building of the Year at the 2008 inaugural World Architectural Festival in Barcelona. Other international projects have since followed, with tantamount acclamation from the architectural community. University Campus UTEC Lima (Lima, Peru 2015) was awarded the inaugural RIBA International Prize 2016 by the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA). Institut Mines Télécom (Paris, France 2019) and Université Toulouse 1 Capitole, School of Economics (Toulouse, France 2019) were recently completed.

Universita Luigi Bocconi
Universita Luigi Bocconi, photo courtesy of Alexandre Soria

They are Fellows of The Royal Institute of the Architects of Ireland and International Honorary Fellows of RIBA. They have previously held the Kenzo Tange chair at the Harvard Graduate School of Design (2010) and the Louis Kahn chair at Yale University (2011) and have taught at institutions including École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne and Accademia di Architettura di Mendrisio, and lectured internationally.

Grafton Architects was the recipient of the 2012 Biennale di Venezia Silver Lion Award for the exhibition, Architecture as New Geography. Farrell and McNamara were appointed as 2018 co-curators for the 16th International Architecture Exhibition, la Biennale di Venezia, with the theme FREESPACE. They were awarded the RIAI James Gandon Medal for Lifetime Achievement in Architecture by the RIAI in 2019 and the RIBA Royal Gold Medal in 2020.

Yvonne Farrell and Shelley McNamara Receive the 2020 Pritzker Architecture Prize

Chicago, IL (March 3, 2020) – Yvonne Farrell and Shelley McNamara of Dublin, Ireland, have been selected as the 2020 Pritzker Prize Laureates, announced Tom Pritzker, Chairman of The Hyatt Foundation, which sponsors the award that is known internationally as architecture’s highest honor.

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

Urban Institute of Ireland
Urban Institute of Ireland, photo courtesy of Ros Kavanagh

As architects and educators since the 1970s, Farrell and McNamara create spaces that are at once respectful and new, honoring history while demonstrating a mastery of the urban environment and craft of construction. Balancing strength and delicacy, and upholding a reverence of site-specific contexts, their academic, civic and cultural institutions, as well as housing developments, result in modern and impactful works that never repeat or imitate, but are decidedly of their own architectural voice.

“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, in part.

“Within the ethos of a practice such as ours, we have so often struggled to find space for the implementation of such values as humanism, craft, generosity, and cultural connection with each place and context within which we work. It is therefore extremely gratifying that this recognition is bestowed upon us and our practice and upon the body of work we have managed to produce over a long number of years,” says McNamara. “It is also a wonderful recognition of the ambition and vision of the clients who commissioned us and enabled us to bring our buildings to fruition.”

Their native Ireland, an island replete with mountains and cliffs, informs their acute sensitivities to geography, changing climates and nature in each of their sites. Their buildings consistently remain purposefully rich, yet modest, enhancing cities and lending to sustainability while responding to local needs. University Campus UTEC Lima (Lima, Peru 2015) is located on a challenging site with a highway sunk in a ravine on one side and a residential neighborhood on the other. The result is a vertical and cascading building responding to both site and climatic needs. Its open spaces were designed to deliberately welcome cooling breezes of the ocean and minimize the need for air-conditioning. At the Offices for the Department of Finance (Dublin, Ireland 2009), the selection of local limestone used in thick panels grants strength to the building. Windows recessed or flush with the façade have grills below them to circulate fresh air throughout the building. Exposures on all sides of the building, atypical of the architecture in this city, offer panoramic views.

University Campus UTEC Lima
University Campus UTEC Lima, photo courtesy of Iwan Baan

 

Université Toulouse
Université Toulouse 1 Capitole, School of Economics, photo courtesy of Dennis Gilbert 

The architects are continuously conscious of the dialogue between the internal and external, evidenced by the mingling of public and private spaces, and the meaningful selection and integrity of materials. “What we try to do in our work is to be aware of the various levels of citizenship and try to find an architecture that deals with overlap, that heightens your relationship to one another,” illustrates Farrell. Universita Luigi Bocconi (Milan, Italy 2008) fosters community between its occupants and the vibrant city that extends well beyond the vertical campus through its ground floor public space, which continues indoors, and its floating canopy that overlaps the ground below, engaging passersby with students. Université Toulouse 1 Capitole, School of Economics (Toulouse, France 2019) features brick buttresses, ramps and courtyards, which are metaphors for the city filled with bridges, walls, promenades and stone towers. North King Street Housing (Dublin, Ireland 2000) is intentionally void of external design elements to resonate with the restraint of the neighboring warehouses.

“The collaboration between Yvonne Farrell and Shelley McNamara represents a veritable interconnectedness between equal counterparts,” states Pritzker. “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.”

Town House Building, Kingston University
Town House Building, Kingston University, photo courtesy of Ed Reeve

Farrell and McNamara have mastered proportion to maintain a human scale and achieve intimate environments within tall and vast buildings. “They have tried, with considerable success, to help us all overcome what is likely to evermore become a serious human problem,” explains Justice Stephen Breyer, Jury Chair. “Namely, how do we build housing and workplaces in a world with over half of its population dwelling in urban environments, and many of them who cannot afford luxury?” A contoured theater floor at the Solstice Arts Centre (Navan, Ireland 2007) creates a physical nearness between audience members and performers. The generous placement of open spaces, windows, glass curtain walls and exposed ceilings allows natural light to filter through a passage of rooms, creating impressions of light through large and small spaces, and within the interlocking areas that compose Institut Mines Télécom in Palaiseau (Paris, France 2019).

McNamara states, “Architecture is a framework for human life. It anchors us and connects us to the world in a way which possibly no other space-making discipline can.” Farrell continues, “At the core of our practice is a real belief that architecture matters. It is a cultural spatial phenomenon that people invent.”

The pair established Grafton Architects in 1978 in Dublin, where they continue to practice and reside. In just over forty years, they have completed nearly as many projects, located in Ireland, the United Kingdom, France, Italy and Peru.

Farrell and McNamara are the 47th and 48th Laureates of the Pritzker Prize, and the first two recipients from Ireland.

Yvonne Farrell and Shelley McNamara have practiced architecture together for forty years in a way that clearly reflects the objectives of the Pritzker Prize: to recognize the art of architecture and consistent service to humanity as evidenced through a body of built work.

Co-founding their professional practice, called Grafton Architects, in Dublin, Ireland in 1978, they have consistently and unhesitatingly pursued the highest quality of architecture for the specific location in which it was to be built, the functions it would house and especially for the people who would inhabit and use their buildings and spaces. They have an oeuvre that includes numerous educational buildings, housing and cultural and civic institutions. 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.

Loreto Community School
Loreto Community School, photo courtesy of Ros Kavanagh

Many of their buildings are located in their home country of Ireland, but through competitions, they have won major commissions for other places around the world, such as Italy, France and Peru. 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. This deep understanding of “spirit of place” means that their works enhance and improve the local community. Their buildings are “good neighbors” that seek to make a contribution beyond the boundaries of the building and to make a city work better. Their North King Street Housing in Dublin (2000) is one example of this: it creates an inner courtyard and a welcome respite from the adjacent busy streets.

Their approach to architecture is always honest, revealing an understanding of the processes of design and construction from large scale structures to the smallest details. It is often in these details, especially in buildings with modest budgets, where a big impact can be felt. For example, the Urban Institute of Ireland (Dublin, 2002) employs what the architects call a “crafted skin” to create a visually interesting building through changes in materials responding to openings, folds, needs for shade and other concerns. At the same time, it employs common sense, good-practice environmental control methodologies for an efficient, sustainable building. On a particularly sensitive site in Dublin, the masterful Offices for the Department of Finance (2009) attests to their knowledge and care in the selection of materials and construction techniques with a carefully handcrafted bronze railing and gate and sanded limestone on the facades.

Offices for the Department of Finance
Offices for the Department of Finance, photo courtesy of Grafton Architects

The architects are skilled and successful working at many scales—from large institutional buildings to a house of only a little more than 100 square meters. Without grand or frivolous gestures, they have managed to create buildings that are monumental institutional presences when appropriate, but even so they are zoned and detailed in such a way as to produce more intimate spaces that create community within. In their large buildings such as the University Campus UTEC (2015) in Lima, Peru or the School of Economics Building (2008) at Universita Luigi Bocconi, they have achieved a human scale through the composition of spaces and volumes of different sizes. The dialogues they create between buildings and surroundings demonstrate a new appreciation of both their works and place.

London School of Economics and Political Science
London School of Economics and Political Science, rendering courtesy of Picture Plane

A constant in their approach, the architects have an understanding of how to design complex sections of buildings in such a way that views connect deep interior spaces with the larger exterior realm and allow natural light to penetrate and animate spaces deep inside a building. Often light streams from skylights or upper story windows throughout the interiors of their buildings, providing warmth and visual interest, helping the inhabitants easily orient themselves in the spaces, and providing the ever necessary connection to the exterior.

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.

University Campus  UTEC Lima
University Campus UTEC Lima, photo courtesy of Iwan Baan

Jury Members

Stephen Breyer, Chair
André Aranha Corrêa do Lago
Barry Bergdoll
Deborah Berke
Kazuyo Sejima
Benedetta Tagliabue
Wang Shu
Martha Thorne, Executive Director

Images for Download

The following are images of the architecture of Yvonne Farrell and Shelley McNamara.

These images may be downloaded and distributed only in relation to the announcement of Yvonne Farrell and Shelley McNamara being named the 2020 Pritzker Architecture Prize Laureates.

The photographer/photo libraries/artists must be credited if noted.

All images are copyright of the respective photographers and artists cited, and courtesy of the Pritzker Architecture Prize.

Click on each image to download a high-resolution file.

Captions for these images are in the 2020 Image Book, available here.
Download the 2020 Media Kit here.

Yvonne Farrell and Shelley McNamara
Yvonne Farrell and Shelley McNamara, photo courtesy of Alice Clancy
Urban Institute of Ireland
Urban Institute of Ireland, photo courtesy of Ros Kavanagh
Urban Institute  of Ireland
Urban Institute of Ireland, photo courtesy of Ros Kavanagh
Urban Institute of Ireland
Urban Institute of Ireland, photo courtesy of Ros Kavanagh
Urban Institute of Ireland
Urban Institute of Ireland, photo courtesy of Ros Kavanagh
Urban Institute of Ireland
Urban Institute of Ireland, photo courtesy of Ros Kavanagh
Urban Institute of Ireland
Urban Institute of Ireland, photo courtesy of Ros Kavanagh
Loreto Community School
Loreto Community School, photo courtesy of Ros Kavanagh
Loreto Community School
Loreto Community School, photo courtesy of Ros Kavanagh
Loreto Community School
Loreto Community School, photo courtesy of Ros Kavanagh
Loreto Community School
Loreto Community School, photo courtesy of Ros Kavanagh
Loreto Community School
Loreto Community School, photo courtesy of Ros Kavanagh
Loreto Community School
Loreto Community School, photo courtesy of Ros Kavanagh
Loreto Community School
Loreto Community School, photo courtesy of Ros Kavanagh
Loreto Community School
Loreto Community School, photo courtesy of Ros Kavanagh
Universita Luigi Bocconi
Universita Luigi Bocconi, photo courtesy of Federico Brunetti
Universita Luigi Bocconi
Universita Luigi Bocconi, photo courtesy of Federico Brunetti
Universita Luigi Bocconi
Universita Luigi Bocconi, photo courtesy of Federico Brunetti
Universita Luigi Bocconi
Universita Luigi Bocconi, photo courtesy of Federico Brunetti
Universita Luigi Bocconi
Universita Luigi Bocconi, photo courtesy of Alexandre Soria
Universita Luigi Bocconi
Universita Luigi Bocconi, photo courtesy of Federico Brunetti
Offices for the Department of Finance
Offices for the Department of Finance, photo courtesy of Dennis Gilbert
Offices for the Department of Finance
Offices for the Department of Finance, photo courtesy of Grafton Architects
Offices for the Department of Finance
Offices for the Department of Finance, photo courtesy of Grafton Architects
Offices for the Department of Finance
Offices for the Department of Finance, photo courtesy of Dennis Gilbert
Medical School, University of Limerick
Medical School, University of Limerick, photo courtesy of Dennis Gilbert
Medical School, University of Limerick
Medical School, University of Limerick, photo courtesy of Dennis Gilbert
Medical School, University of Limerick
Medical School, University of Limerick, photo courtesy of Dennis Gilbert
Medical School, University of Limerick
Medical School, University of Limerick, photo courtesy of Dennis Gilbert
Medical School, University of Limerick
Medical School, University of Limerick, photo courtesy of Dennis Gilbert

 

University Campus UTEC Lima
University Campus UTEC Lima, photo courtesy of Iwan Baan
University Campus UTEC Lima
University Campus UTEC Lima, photo courtesy of Iwan Baan
University Campus UTEC Lima
University Campus UTEC Lima, photo courtesy of Iwan Baan
University Campus UTEC Lima
University Campus UTEC Lima, photo courtesy of Iwan Baan
University Campus UTEC Lima
University Campus UTEC Lima, photo courtesy of Iwan Baan
University Campus UTEC Lima
University Campus UTEC Lima, photo courtesy of Iwan Baan
Université Toulouse 1 Capitole, School of Economics
Université Toulouse 1 Capitole, School of Economics, photo courtesy of Dennis Gilbert
Université Toulouse 1 Capitole, School of Economics
Université Toulouse 1 Capitole, School of Economics, photo courtesy of Dennis Gilbert
Université Toulouse 1 Capitole, School of Economics
Université Toulouse 1 Capitole, School of Economics, photo courtesy of Dennis Gilbert
Université Toulouse 1 Capitole, School of Economics
Université Toulouse 1 Capitole, School of Economics, photo courtesy of Dennis Gilbert
Université Toulouse 1 Capitole, School of Economics
Université Toulouse 1 Capitole, School of Economics, photo courtesy of Dennis Gilbert
Université Toulouse 1 Capitole, School of Economics
Université Toulouse 1 Capitole, School of Economics, photo courtesy of Dennis Gilbert
Université Toulouse 1 Capitole, School of Economics
Université Toulouse 1 Capitole, School of Economics, photo courtesy of Dennis Gilbert
Institut Mines Télécom
Institut Mines Télécom, photo courtesy of Grafton Architects
Institut Mines Télécom
Institut Mines Télécom, photo courtesy of Alexandre Soria
Institut Mines Télécom
Institut Mines Télécom, photo courtesy of Alexandre Soria
Institut Mines Télécom
Institut Mines Télécom, photo courtesy of Alexandre Soria
Institut Mines Télécom
Institut Mines Télécom, photo courtesy of Alexandre Soria
Town House Building, Kingston University
Town House Building, Kingston University, photo courtesy of Ed Reeve
Town House Building, Kingston University
Town House Building, Kingston University, photo courtesy of Dennis Gilbert
Town House Building, Kingston University
Town House Building, Kingston University, photo courtesy of Ed Reeve
Town House Building, Kingston University
Town House Building, Kingston University, rendering courtesy of Grafton Architects
Parnell Square Cultural Quarter, City Library
Parnell Square Cultural Quarter, City Library, rendering courtesy of Grafton Architects
Parnell Square Cultural Quarter, City Library
Parnell Square Cultural Quarter, City Library, rendering courtesy of Picture Plane
Parnell Square Cultural Quarter, City Library
Parnell Square Cultural Quarter, City Library, rendering courtesy of Picture Plane
Parnell Square Cultural Quarter, City Library
Parnell Square Cultural Quarter, City Library, rendering courtesy of Picture Plane
London School of Economics and Political Science
London School of Economics and Political Science, rendering courtesy of Picture Plane
London School of Economics and Political Science
London School of Economics and Political Science, rendering courtesy of Grafton Architects
London School of Economics and Political Science
London School of Economics and Political Science, rendering courtesy of Grafton Architects
Medical School, University of Limerick
Medical School, University of Limerick, photo courtesy of Dennis Gilbert

Introduction

 

Responsibility to Earth

 

To Be an Architect

It's a Journey

 

Cities

 

The Practice of Architecture