Architects Yvonne Farrell and Shelley McNamara triumph with the 2020 Pritzker Prize lifestyle
The founders of Grafton Architects have reached the highest award in architecture because of their cosmopolitan, brutalist style, in which every building establishes a direct connection with the natural, sociological, and cultural environment; uniting people with the urban core.
Irish architects Yvonne Farrell and Shelley McNamara have won the 2020 Pritzker Prize 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 Venice Biennale [which they curated under the slogan “Freespace” in 2018], their unceasing commitment to excellence in architecture, their responsible attitude towards the environment, their ability to be cosmopolitan while embracing the uniqueness of each place in which they work,” stated the jury citation, highlighting the courage and social commitment shown by both architects.
“They are pioneers in a field that has been traditionally and continues to be dominated by men. They are a beacon for other professionals” praised Tom Pritzker, president of the Hyatt Foundation, during the announcement of the award.
Founding members of Grafton Architects firm, both began writing their history in the 70s whilst studying at University College Dublin, where they now teach. It was there that they decided to launch a shared project, putting architecture at the service of humanity and searching for answers with creative, universal, and inclusive language. “Architecture could be described as one of the most complex and important cultural activities on the planet. To win this prize is a wonderful endorsement of our belief in architecture” Farrell told the media.
Championing humanist architecture
From their Dublin studio, Farrell and McNamara have designed and given form to universities, official buildings, and family homes. Among their most outstanding works are the Université Toulouse (Toulouse, France, 2019), the Université Toulouse 1 Capitole (Toulouse, France, 2019), the Institut Mines-Télécom (Paris, 2019), the University of Engineering and Technology UTEC (Lima, Peru, 2015), the Department of Finance (Dublin, Ireland, 2009), the Universitá Luigi Bocconi (Milan, Italy, 2008), the Offices of the Department of Finance (Dublin, Ireland 2009) and the Urban Institute of Ireland (2002).
Their trajectory is testament to the versatility and constancy of their work, through which they have championed a more egalitarian and free society. “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. 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.” said McNamara after hearing the verdict.
Specifically, this humanistic vision that gives each building its own life and meaning has led them to understand architecture as “a framework for human life”. From this position, they reflect on and contemplate new notions of habitability and urban planning, with a dialogue between the public and private spheres. “Architecture anchors us and connects us to the world in a way which possibly no other space-making discipline can. At the core of our practice is a real belief that architecture matters“, added McNamara.
Inclusive buildings that promote community life
Their brutalist style constructions draw from the land and materials surrounding them, with huge volumes, natural light, outdoor relaxation areas, and intimate spaces where the individual and communities come together as a whole. “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,” said Farrell.
They achieved this goal with Luigi Bocconi University in Milan (winning the World Building of the Year in 2008), with an overall structure that promotes social living and a dialogue with the city. The Toulouse School of Economics has a similar effect, with concrete combined with stone from Lake Iseo. “We try to be aware of the different levels of the city and find the solutions that architecture can provide in them”, the two architects said.
Farrell and McNamara are the first Irish women architects to win the award and the fourth and fifth women, following Iraqi-born British Zaha Hadid (Pritzker 2004), Japanese Kazuyo Sejima with Ryue Nishizawa (Pritzker 2010), and Spanish Carme Pigem, together with Rafael Aranda and Ramón Villalta (RCR Arquitectes), who won the Pritzker Prize in 2017.
Arata Isozaki, the 2019 Pritzker Prize winner for his “contribution to humanity through the art of architecture”