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Irish architects Farrell, McNamara win Pritzker Prize

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 Tuesday by Tom Pritzker, chairman of The Hyatt Foundation, which sponsors the award, considered the highest honor in architecture.

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

It added: “They have an oeuvre that includes numerous educational buildings, housing and cultural and civic institutions. 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.”

In a telephone interview from Dublin, Farrell and McNamara described to The Associated Press 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, but also have won 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.”

“We say sometimes that we’re like scientists of space,” she added in the interview. When conceiving a project for a client, she said, “We try and understand your aspiration functionally but also in terms of your dream, or your symbolism. We find a story in each project.”

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 in Italy, saying the architects “have achieved a human scale through the composition of spaces and volumes of different sizes. The dialogues they create between buildings and surroundings demonstrate a new appreciation of both their works and place.”

In a manifesto written for the Venice Biennale in 2018, Farrell and McNamara wrote: “We are interested in going beyond the visual, emphasizing the role of architecture in the choreography of daily life. We see the earth as Client; this brings with it long-lasting responsibilities. Architecture is the play of light, sun, shade, moon, air, wind, gravity in ways that reveal the mysteries of the world.”

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’s because the jury deems their work to be inextricably linked.