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2020 Pritzker Prize goes to Yvonne Farrell and Shelley McNamara

The selection celebrates “honest architecture” that serves its inhabitants and the neighborhood

A concrete building with many terraces.
University Campus UTEC Lima.
Iwan Baan courtesy Pritzker Prize

This year’s Pritzker Prize, considered the most prestigious honor in architecture, was announced this morning, and the first award of the new decade is going to Yvonne Farrell and Shelley McNamara, founders of Dublin firm Grafton Architects.

Farrell and McNamara are the first female pair to nab the prize, as well as the first two recipients from Ireland. This honor comes after the duo’s recent international recognition as curators of the 2018 Venice Architecture Biennale, an accomplishment the jury noted as evidence of their “belief in collaboration” and “generosity towards their colleagues.”

Two women facing each other in front of an architectural drawing.
Yvonne Farrell and Shelley McNamara formed Grafton Architects in 1978.
Courtesy Pritzker Prize

In the span of over forty years, Grafton Architects has completed many works in Ireland and has commissions in the U.K., France, Italy, and Peru, including a number of academic, civic, and cultural institutions, as well as housing developments. The Pritzker jury especially praised the thoughtfulness of these larger projects, particularly how they keenly respond to local considerations like specific site and climate conditions and create “human scale” and “intimate environments” within larger buildings.

“They have tried, with considerable success, to help us all overcome what is likely to evermore become a serious human problem,” said U.S. Supreme Court Justice and Pritzker jury chair Stephen Breyer. “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?”

An aerial view of buildings along a ravine. A modern concrete building is in the center next to highways.
University Campus UTEC Lima, seen between a highway and a dense neighborhood, toward the center-top of the photo.
Iwan Baan courtesy Pritzker Prize

Farrell and McNamara put forth their answers in projects like the University Campus UTEC in Lima, Peru, which navigates a tricky site between a highway in a ravine and a residential neighborhood; in the North King Street Housing project in Dublin, which employs an inner courtyard as an oasis from busy streets nearby; and in the Offices for the Department of Finance in Dublin, a contemporary building clad in local limestone and view-framing windows that uses grills to circulate fresh air and engage with the street level.

In their notes, jurors commended the pair’s deep understanding of “spirit of place,” describing their buildings as “‘good neighbors’ that seek to make a contribution beyond the boundaries of the building and to make a city work better.”

Below, take a closer look at a few of Grafton Architects’ major works.

A sidewalk with a gray limestone building next to a lower brick building.
Offices for the Department of Finance, Dublin.
Grafton Architects courtesy Pritzker Prize
A rectangular brick building on a concrete foundation with fin-like openings on the facade.
Urban Institute of Ireland, Dublin.
Ros Kavanagh courtesy Pritkzer Prize
Interior of building with high ceilings and light shining through windows near ceiling.
Urban Institute of Ireland, Dublin.
Ros Kavanagh courtesy Pritzker Prize
A tram runs near a row of buildings, including an angular gray building.
Universita Luigi Bocconi, Milan.
Federico Brunetti courtesy Pritkzer Prize
People gathered in a sunken level of a building.
Universita Luigi Bocconi, Milan.
Alexandre Soria courtesy Pritzker Prize