Architecture – “Architecture is a gift and this planet is our client” said Yvonne Farrell and Shelley McNamara to Archipanic at Venice Architecture Biennale 2018. The duo won the 2020 Pritzker Prize. Under their leadership, the studio has brought forward a humane-driven approach tuning contemporary global values with local heritage and culture, with a special focus on architecture education as a generous tool for future generations.
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“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.” Says Yvonne Farrell, co-founder of Grafton Architects.
“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.” Adds McNamara.
The architects met during their collegiate studies at the School of Architecture at UCD – University College Dublin. Upon graduating in 1976, they were each offered the unique opportunity to teach at UCD, where they continued to educate until 2006, and were appointed as adjunct professors in 2015.
“Teaching for us has always been a parallel reality,” comments Farrell. “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.”
As architects and educators, Farrell and McNamara create spaces that are at once respectful and new, honoring 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.
In 1978, the duo co-founded Grafton Architects, named after the street of their original office to prioritize the existence of place, rather than individuals.
Main street and private plots compose the Loreto Community School (2006) in Milford in the north of County Donegal, Ireland. Sitting on a tiered landscape, the complex mirrors the sloped the city’s topography.
Located on both sides of the lower reaches of the River Shannon, the longest river in Irealnd, the University of Limerick complex (2012) merges three existing, neighbouring institutions into a a new public space.
At the Offices for the Department of Finance in Dublin (2009), the selection of local limestone used in thick panels grants strength to the building. Windows recessed or flush with the façade have grills below them to circulate fresh air throughout the building.
Grafton Architects’ first international commission transpired 25 years later, with Università Luigi Bocconi in Milan in 2008. “We thought of the university as a place of exchange, a marketplace of ideas.” From here the studio created a building opened to the city. Offices for 1,000 professors, 5 conference halls, lecture theatres, courtyards and concourses are all accessible to the public, with offices for teaching staff suspended above.
Located at the edge of a deep gorge in the city’s Barranco district, the University Campus UTEC Lima in Peru (2015). The building responds to both site and local climate. A series of landscaped terraces with clefts that overhangs provide shaded meeting spaces and allow air circulation. Teaching rooms, laboratories and offices are enclosed, inserted into and suspended from the exposed concrete structure. Its open spaces were designed to deliberately welcome cooling breezes of the ocean and minimize the need for air-conditioning.
In 2018, Farrell and McNamara have been appointed as curators of the 16th Venice Architecture Biennale. The theme they chose, FREE SPACE, invited the global architecture community to explore how the discipline could generously contribute to improve our lives through the design of public spaces. Read more…
In 2019, Grafton architects completed Institut Mines Télécom in Paris and the School of Economics in Toulouse, France.
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All images: courtesy of Pritzker Prize.