In the RIBA (Royal Institute of British Architects) award’s 172-year history, it is only the second time the prize is given to a women-led firm. The first was Zaha Hadid in 2016.
The Royal Gold Medal is approved personally by Her Majesty The Queen and is given to a person or group of people who have had a significant influence "either directly or indirectly on the advancement of architecture".
Grafton Architects, the Dublin practice led by Yvonne Farrell and Shelley McNamara, named as the recipient of the 2020 RIBA gold medal, have been designing and developing brutalist buildings with primitive feel since 1978.
Grafton Architects had won the RIBA international prize in 2016 for the “best new building in the world” which went to their design of the Universidad de Ingenieria y Tecnologia (UTEC) in Lima, Peru. UTEC gave that same peculiar sensation of being in an ancient time and space. The primal feel comes from the mineral aspect of their architecture and robust frames at a time where lightweight frames and transparency prevail. Their design is made to endure...
“We’re interested in weight (…) For us, the enjoyment in architecture is the sense of weight being borne down or supported, the feeling of moving within the forces of gravity. It’s a very primal need.”
Farrell and McNamara founded their practice as a cooperative in 1978, having studied together at UCD Schoolof Architecture, Planning and Environmental Policy in the early 1970s. They are always keen to emphasize the collaborative nature of their work, naming fellow directors Gerard Carty and Philippe O’Sullivan, who have been with the practice since 1992.
They are currently working on the Marshall Building for the London School of Economics (LSE); Town House for Kingston University London; the School of Economics for the University Toulouse 1 Capitole; Institute Mines Telecom University Building in Paris Saclay; the City Library & Parnell Square Cultural Quarter project in Dublin, with Shaffery Architects; and the new HQ for the Electricity Supply Board in Dublin, with O'Mahony Pike architects; all won by international competition.
The Royal Gold Medal will be presented to Grafton Architects at a special ceremony in early 2020.