With more than 40 years of professional experience, Yvonne Farrell and Shelley McNamara, partners and co-founders of Dublin-based Grafton Architects, are the first women to be jointly awarded the architecture’s highest honor, the Pritzker Prize. In addition to a very welcoming breath of hope towards greater female representation in the field, the selection also cast light over an equally urgent theme in the profession: recognizing architecture practice as a collective effort.
1. Grafton Architects is a Dublin-based architecture practice co-founded by Yvonne Farrell and Shelley McNamara in 1978. Four years after, the duo graduated from University College Dublin. In 1992, project directors Gerard Carty and Philippe O'Sullivan joined the team and remain part of the crew until today.
2. After more than forty years of professional activities, the office still has the same name in honor of its first address, Grafton Street, downtown Dublin.
3. With 40 professionals, Grafton could be considered a medium-size office in most countries. Since its opening in 1978, other 56 professionals have worked with the duo.
4. In 2018, Farrell and McNamara co-curated the Venice Architecture Biennale, world's most influential architectural event. The proposed theme, Freespace, sought to explore generosity, reflection, and engagement through the practice of architecture.
5. The Freespace exhibition in Venice brought together 71 participants from all continents to discuss “diversity, specificity, and continuity in architecture.”
6. For the 2012 edition of La Biennale, Farrell and McNamarra presented Architecture as New Geography, an exhibition inspired by an unlikely source: Paulo Mendes da Rocha's buildings and ideas - himself a Pritzker Prize winner years before. The exhibition articulated the production of the Brazilian architect with Grafton's first project in South America - the University Campus UTEC in Lima, Peru - and was awarded the Silver Lion.
7. Besides 2012 and 2018, the architects have been involved with the Venice Biennale two more times, exhibiting works in 2002 and 2016.
8. The UTEC project in Lima is perhaps the one that has brought most recognition outside Europe to the Irish duo. In 2016, it was awarded the first RIBA International Prize.
9. This year, the office was awarded the Royal Gold Medal from the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA). Promoted by RIBA every year, the Royal Gold Medal is the highest honor awarded to an architect or architectural firm in the United Kingdom.
10. Before founding Grafton Architects, Farrell and McNamarra have worked as architecture professors. Only one year after finishing graduation, they were teaching at University College Dublin.
11. Their academic resumé goes further. They have held the Kenzo Tange Chair at GSD Harvard and the Louis Kahn Chair at Yale University; they were also visiting professors at EPFL Lausanne, and at the Accademia d’Archittettura in Mendrisio, both in Switzerland.
12. With operations in different countries and continents, Farrell and McNamarra understand globalization not as "conquering something, or asserting your presence someplace" but as "contributing to something that you find is good.”
13. Often, literature is mentioned as inspiration to the duo. "When you read Thomas Hardy's descriptions, for example, you realise that he was an architect. For us, literature, words, imagination, and making are all very deeply connected” comments Farrell.
14. Besides Venice Biennale, Grafton Architects has participated in several other exhibitions, among them, Sensing Spaces Exhibition in 2014, at the Royal Academy in London; a pavilion for the tricentennial of the city of Barcelona in 2014; and the 2015 Ogham Wall installation at London's Victoria & Albert Museum.
15. Grafton Architects has participated in the Mies Van Der Rohe Award three times, having been nominated in 2003 with the project Dunshaughlin Civic Offices, Co. Meath; shortlisted in 2009 with the project Università Luigi Bocconi in Milan; and shortlisted again in 2015 with the project University of Limerick Medical School.
16. In 2016, the acclaimed University Campus UTEC in Lima was a finalist for the Mies Crown Hall Americas Prize (MCHAP).
18. In 2013, Grafton was a finalist for the Stirling Prize with their project for the University of Limerick. In 2008, the duo won the Building of the Year Award from the World Architecture Festival, with the project for Università Luigi Bocconi in Milan.
19. Three of the studio's most prominent buildings - University Campus UTEC in Lima, the ESB Headquarters in Dublin, and the New School of Economics in Toulouse (this one still under construction) - are winning competition entries.
20. Among its projects under construction, one of the most anticipated is the new building for the famous London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE), also originated from a competition.