Today the 2020 Pritzker Prize, architecture’s highest honor, was awarded to the Irish duo of Yvonne Farrell and Shelley McNamara, who have made their reputations with democratic, inviting buildings that playfully respond to their sites. Compared to many previous Pritzker winners (who have largely been men), they have a relatively low profile within the architecture community. That’s at least partly by choice. When they founded their Dublin firm in 1978, they christened it Grafton Architects, after the street of their first offices, instead of using their own names. Their buildings embody that focus on location, and they encourage interactions between the people who inhabit them.
Built with weighty materials like concrete and brick, their structures have a tough, monolithic quality that’s softened with welcoming elements: broad, open spaces that fill with natural light, views between floors, and wide, zigzagging staircases. These are generous, respectful buildings that are also daring and masterfully made. Such inventive work has earned Farrell and McNamara many accolades, including the 2015 Jane Drew Prize and 2020 Royal Gold Medal, and in 2018 they curated the central show at the Venice Architecture Biennale.
Farrell and McNamara skillfully work across scales, with projects around the world ranging from outsize institutional buildings to a house that’s just over 300 square feet. Below, we spotlight five of our favorite works by them. Together, they exemplify McNamara’s view of architecture as “a framework for human life,” as she put it in a statement accompanying the announcement of the prize. She added, “It anchors us and connects us to the world in a way which possibly no other space-making discipline can.”
Institut Mines Télécom Paris, France 2019
Natural light pours through the open spaces, glass curtain walls, and exposed ceilings in this structure, which serves students and professors at the Institut Mines Télécom, Télécom Paristech, and Télécom Sud-Paris in Palaiseau, a commune in Paris’s southern suburbs.
Universidad de Ingeniería y Tecnología (UTEC) Lima, Peru 2015
The firm’s most acclaimed project to date sits above a busy main road with a facade that recalls the rugged cliffs that surround it. Open walkways and stairways connect the classrooms with the offices of administrators and teachers in the staggered upper levels, creating places to gather.
Urban Institute of Ireland Dublin, Ireland 2002
For a building that houses scientists, engineers, and economists who research sustainable development, the firm wrapped its facade in terracotta tiles, red brick, and granite plinths to form a compelling tactile skin.
Universita Luigi Bocconi Milan, Italy 2008
This vertical structure of sprawling pavilions and courtyards creates a feeling of community among its lecture halls, offices, meetings rooms, library, and cafe. Clad in stone, it serves more than 1,000 students and professors, and occupies an entire city block.
Loreto Community School Milford, Ireland 2006
United by a zinc roof that mimics the site’s dramatic landscape, this building’s wings are arranged in a pinwheel-like shape, creating protected outdoor spaces for the more than 700 students, faculty, and staff who call the school home.