Farrell, McNamara first female duo to win top architecture prize

The Irish architects won the Pritzker ‘for their integrity in their approach’ and ‘commitment to excellence’.

Farrell McNamara
McNamara (left) and Farrell (right) in front of architect Antoni Gaudi's iconic building La Pedrera in Barcelona [File: Gustau Nacarino/Spain Society via Reuters]

Irish architects Yvonne Farrell and Shelley McNamara have been awarded the 2020 Pritzker Architecture Prize for “consistent service to humanity as evidenced by a body of built work” and for leading the way for women in a male-dominated profession.

The announcement was made on Tuesday by Tom Pritzker, chairman of The Hyatt Foundation, which sponsors the award, considered architecture’s highest honour.

The jury citation noted that the pair, who co-founded their Dublin-based Grafton Architects in 1978, “unhesitatingly pursued the highest quality of architecture for the … 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”.

McNamara, 68, and Farrell, 69, are the first female duo to win the Pritzker, and the first architects from Ireland to be awarded the prize.

“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,” read the jury citation.

Three women have won the prize previously: Zaha Hadid in 2004, Kazuyo Sejima in 2010 (with Ryue Nishizawa) and Carme Pigem in 2017 (with Ramon Vilalta and Rafael Aranda).

Bocconi University building - Pritzker
In 2008, Farrell and McNamara’s celebrated Grafton Building at Milan’s Bocconi University was named World Building of the Year at the World Architecture Festival in Barcelona [File: Luca Bruno/AP]

‘You get younger as you get older’

In a telephone interview from Dublin, Farrell and McNamara told The Associated Press news agency how they began their collaboration as early as 1969 when they met as architecture students.

“We learned a lot from each other,” McNamara said. “We grew together in college.”

Even now, she said, after decades in the field, “What’s interesting is we always feel like we’re starting. With architecture, you always feel like you get younger as you get older. You’re continually being challenged and continually challenging yourself. You never sit back and say ‘OK, I’ve done that’.”

The architects have collaborated on many projects in their home country, as well as commissions in locales like Peru, Italy and France.

Farrell said the two believe that “architecture is both a business and an art.”

“In each project,” she said, “there is the capacity to find something that is an addition to what the client originally maybe dreamed of, something that’s added by the imaginative and creative skills of what the architecture profession can bring.”

The jury’s citation singled out projects like the Urban Institute of Ireland, a 2002 building that “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,” while also creating an efficient, sustainable building.

It also cited university buildings in Peru and Italy, saying the architects “have achieved a human scale through the composition of spaces and volumes of different sizes”.

In 2008, Farrell and McNamara’s celebrated Grafton Building at Milans Bocconi University was named World Building of the Year at the World Architecture Festival in Barcelona, a prize that thrust the pair onto the international stage.

The Pritzker Architecture Prize was established in 1979 by the late entrepreneur Jay A Pritzker and his wife, Cindy. The winner receives a $100,000 grant and a bronze medallion. It is awarded not to a firm but to an individual architect; when more than one individual is selected, it is because the jury deems their work to be inextricably linked.

Source: News Agencies