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Architect Des McMahon receives the RIAI James Gandon Medal for Lifetime Achievement in Architecture

Published: Wednesday, December 02, 2015

Des McMahon

Des McMahon - Gandon Medal, 2015  - Photograph by Eugene Langan


On 30 November, the Royal Institute of the Architects of Ireland awarded its James Gandon Medal for lifetime achievement in architecture to Des McMahon, FRIAI, co-founder of Gilroy McMahon Architects. Inaugurated in 2011, this was the third time that the James Gandon medal was presented with the two earlier recipients being the late Dr Ronnie Tallon of Scott Tallon Walker Architects and the US-based Irish architect Kevin Roche.

Des McMahon is founder and former director of Gilroy McMahon Architects and a Past President of the Royal Hibernian Academy. Uniquely in Ireland, he has won the RIAI Gold Medal twice (the biggest honour in Irish architecture for a building) – for the extension to DIT Bolton Street and for Croke Park Stadium. Croke Park (83 000 capacity) is considered Europe’s first modern stadium and epitomises a new era of stadia culture, which sees their use extended beyond match days. Other awards for Gilroy McMahon include the RIAI Triennial Silver Medal for Architectural Conservation and the International Gulbenkian Award for Museum Design. Among the portfolio of Gilroy McMahon are many significant national cultural projects including the extension to the Dublin City Gallery of Modern Art, The Hugh Lane; the national venue for traditional Irish music, Glór, Ennis, Co. Clare; and the conversion of Collins’ Barracks, Dublin, to the National Museum of Ireland.  Education forms another important part of the expertise of Gilroy McMahon including Ballyfermot Senior College and Library and the winning entry in the RIAI / Department of Education design competition for a new primary school suited for 21st century learning.

Des Mc Mahon

RIAI President, Robin Mandal, who nominated Des McMahon, described the architect as “gifted, tenacious, committed, charming, with a broad mind that understood the complexities of life”. “For me, Des is the epitome of the architect – an outward looking worker committed to excellence with a wide range of interests. He sees architecture in the continuum that is culture and as the mother of the Arts. As President of the Royal Hibernian Academy, he further embedded architecture into that artistic maelstrom that is so much part of our cultural identity. Des is one of the few renaissance men to have survived the grinding specialisation that our world demands. An obvious leader, he holds centre stage while playing whatever part the script demands. His belief that the reality of architecture is people’s physical mental and emotional response to it is clearly seen in all his work. It lies well in the belief that all we do as architects should be based on serving communities. From the Ballyfermot Senior College and Library to the Hugh Lane Gallery, Collins Barracks and Croke Park, his architecture is about cultural communal identity. Without his love of music, Glór in Ennis would be a very different place. In a world where Yeats’s aphorism that ‘the best lack all conviction; the worst are full of passionate intensity' holds sway, Des is the exception that proves the rule: He has both conviction and passionate intensity.”

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Tony Hanahoe 

Also speaking at the award ceremony in the RIAI, Tony Hanahoe, Gaelic Footballer and long-time friend of Des McMahon, said it was “difficult to separate Des from Croke Park” – as both a “gladiator”, having played Gaelic football at County level for Tyrone, and as the architect for Ireland’s “new colosseum”. Hanahoe credited Des McMahon with having designed the “single largest construction project in the history of the state” as well as devising a new stadia typology that caters for both sporting and non-sporting events.

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From LR Tony Hanahoe, Barbara Dawson and Des McMahon 


Joining the tributes at the RIAI, Barbara Dawson, Director of the Dublin City Gallery, the Hugh Lane, highlighted Des McMahon’s vision for the Hugh Lane as “both temple and supermarket” – reaching out to new audiences for art and celebrating the non-exhibition space, where people meet and mingle, as much as the galleries themselves. “Since the new extension to the Hugh Lane, visitors have been increasing every year”, said Dawson, and described the new wing as “an excellent example of great architecture”.

For further information or to arrange interviews with Des McMahon:
Niall Quinn, The Reputations Agency, 01 661 8915, 086 827 4829, niall@thereputationsagency.ie
Dr. Sandra O’Connell, Communications Manager, RIAI, T: 01 6761703, soconnell@riai.ie

About the RIAI James Gandon Medal
The RIAI introduced the James Gandon Medal in 2011 and each President of the RIAI has the honour of selecting a recipient for the Medal during their two-year term of office. This was the third occasion that the Medal has been presented. The two earlier recipients were the late Dr Ronnie Tallon of Scott Tallon Walker Architects and the US-based Irish architect Kevin Roche.

About the RIAI
The RIAI is the regulatory and support body for architects in Ireland. Since 1839, the RIAI has been committed to upholding the highest standards in architecture and providing impartial, authoritative advice and information on issues affecting architects and the built environment. Our main roles are promoting, supporting and regulating architects and protecting the consumer. Although the RIAI carries out a statutory function as the Registration Body and Competent Authority for Architects in Ireland, this is carried out on a self-funding basis. It does not receive any Government Funding or aid for this function.

Categories: Architecture | Press Releases | RIAI Press Release


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