Yvonne Farrell and Shelley McNamara are the first woman duo to take home the highly coveted Pritzker Architecture Prize.
The Pritzker Architecture Prize is popularly considered the Nobel Prize of Architecture. It was first established in 1979. It is awarded to "honor 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." However, ever since it was instituted, the award has always been handed to men or a woman working independently. Therefore, when architects Yvonne Farrell and Shelley McNamara took home the most prestigious award in architecture this year, they made history, NPR reports. They are the first woman duo to win the award, which is a celebration of sisterhood.
Architecture, like other STEM fields, has long been dominated by men and suffers from a severe imbalance in gender ratio. Things are, thankfully, changing. Farrell and McNamara's win is nonetheless a groundbreaking feat. The pair met while studying at the School of Architecture at University College in Dublin, Ireland. A few years later, they established their architecture firm, Grafton Architects. "Our name, Grafton Architects, comes from the street where we set up our first office, on Grafton Street," McNamara shared. "And we were a group of five architects, and we had this idea of making a collective practice, so we called ourselves after the street. So we are anchored in our own place and our own culture."
Achitects Yvonne Farrell and Shelley McNamara have won the world-famous Pritzker Architecture Prize. The two Irish woman founded their firm, Grafton Architects, in 1978. They specialize in university buildings, which can be seen in Limerick, Lima, Milan and London. pic.twitter.com/RBFGCkeQE9— DW Culture (@dw_culture) March 3, 2020
The fact that they didn't name their practice after themselves is an important detail about the kind of work that they do as architects. Robert McCarter, an architecture professor at Washington University in St. Louis, explained, "Their practice is grounded in the specifics of place. Dublin and Ireland are very important. And they say their practice is committed to the cultural ethics of buildings, so it's an ethics that's all-encompassing of the culture in which they work." Dublin and Ireland have been pivotal in their practice. Among their various accomplishments, Farrell and McNamara have designed a building for Trinity College in Dublin. They also helped transform Dublin's Temple Bar Square into a "lively, pedestrian-friendly commercial destination."
The architects, as you would expect, have received immense praise for their work. Sarah Whiting, dean of Harvard's Graduate School of Design, stated, "They're phenomenally good architects." She called their architectural style "forthright" and "beefy". Prior to receiving the prestigious Pritzker Architecture Prize, they were awarded the 2012 Biennale di Venezia Silver Lion Award for their exhibition Architecture as New Geography, the RIAI James Gandon Medal for Lifetime Achievement in Architecture by the RIAI in 2019, and the RIBA Royal Gold Medal in 2020. As is pointedly evident, they're quite the powerhouse of talent, skill, and accomplishment.
In addition to building great designs and executing them flawlessly, Farrell and McNamara are also greatly interested in education. McNamara stated at a lecture at the KTH Royal Institute of Technology in Sweden in 2015, "We're passionately interested in education. The university should be a place where knowledge is tended to like a garden. And we're the guardians of knowledge." The duo has thus taken up multiple projects involving education buildings, such as at the University Campus UTEC Lima in Peru, in France, and in the United Kingdom. They are currently finishing up a project for the London School of Economics. Farrell commented, "Teaching for us has always been a parallel reality. And it’s a way of trying to distill our experience and gift it to other generations coming along so that they actually play a role in the growing of that culture. So it’s a two-way thing, we learn from students and hopefully, students learn from us." If their the guardians of knowledge, then it's definitely in good hands.