Yvonne Farrell and Shelley McNamara have been selected as the Pritzker Prize Laureates for 2020. The official announcement was made by Tom Pritzker, chairman of The Hyatt Foundation, which sponsors the award – one of architecture’s most prestigious honours and often referred to as the Nobel Prize of architecture. Farrell and Shelley McNamara established Grafton Architects in 1978 in Dublin, where they continue to practise and reside.

Over four decades, they have completed nearly 40 projects, in Ireland, the United Kingdom, France, Italy and Peru. The Pritzker Architecture Prize was founded in 1979 by the late Jay A.Pritzker and his wife, Cindy. Its purpose is “to honour annually a living architect or architects whose built work demonstrates a combination of those qualities of talent, vision and commitment, which has produced consistent and significant contributions to humanity and the built environment through the art of architecture”.

Responding to the announcement, Farrell said, “Architecture could be described as one of the most complex and important cultural activities on the planet. To be an architect is an enormous privilege. To win this prize is a wonderful endorsement of our belief in architecture.

Universita Luigi Bocconi (Milan) – photo courtesy of Federico Brunet

“At the core of our practice is a real belief that architecture matters. It is a cultural spatial phenomenon that people invent.” Added McNamara, “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. 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. “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.”

University Campus UTEC Lima (Peru) – photo courtesy of Iwan Baan

The jury citation noted, “As architects and educators since the 1970s, Farrell and McNamara create spaces that are at once respectful and new, honouring 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.

Town House Building, Kingston University (United Kingdom) – photo courtesy of Ed Reeves

“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.

London School of Economics and Political Science – rendering courtesy of Grafton Architects

According to Pritzker, “The collaboration between Yvonne Farrell and Shelley McNamara represents a veritable interconnectedness between equal counterparts. 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.” Justice Stephen Breyer, the jury chair, said Farrell and McNamara had 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.

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?”







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