Yvonne Farrell and Shelley McNamara, founders of Dublin, Ireland architect firm Grafton Architects, are the first pair of women to win the Pritzker Prize, as announced on Tuesday by The Hyatt Foundation, which sponsors the award. The Pritzker is widely renowned as the most prestigious award in architecture.
Although women have been awarded the prize in the past — Zaha Hadid won in 2004, Kazuyo Sejima was co-awarded the prize in 2010 with Ryue Nishizawa, and Carme Pigem was co-awarded the prize in 2017 with Rafael Aranda and Ramon Vilalta — this will be the first time an all-female team of more than one woman has won the prize. The 2020 award also marks the first time a team from Ireland has won the Pritzker.
“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,” McNamara said in a statement. “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.”
In 2018 the team also received the honor and responsibility of curating the Venice Architecture Biennale.
“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 toward 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,” the 2020 Jury Citation states.
Since its inception in 1978, Grafton Architects has completed several projects in Ireland as well as works in the U.K., France, Italy and Peru, academic, civic, cultural institutions and housing developments among them.
Farrell and McNamara’s sensitivity to locality and challenging spaces helped them earn the attention and admiration of the prize jury.
“They have tried, with considerable success, to help us all overcome what is likely to evermore become a serious human problem,” Justice Stephen Breyer, Pritzker jury chair, said in a statement. “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?”
The University Campus UTEC Lima that the team completed in Lima, Peru, in 2015 especially highlights their resourcefulness operating within challenging landscapes.
The campus is located in between a highway sunk in a ravine and a residential neighborhood. The building that Farrell and McNamara designed for this unique area contains open spaces that allow for cooling cross-breezes from the ocean to come into the campus to reduce the use of air conditioning.
At the Offices for the Department of Finance in Dublin that the team completed in 2009, thick panels of local limestone were used in construction to fortify the building. Both recessed windows and those flush with the building’s facade contain grills below them to enable circulation of fresh air within the building. The building also has exposures on all sides, which offer panoramic views, a rarity in Dublin.
“Architecture is a framework for human life,” McNamara said in a statement. “It anchors us and connects us to the world in a way which possibly no other space-making discipline can.”