• 14 Feb 2020

Grafton Architects receive Royal Gold Medal 2020 

Yvonne Farrell and Shelley McNamara, co-founders of Dublin-based Grafton Architects, were awarded with their fellow directors Ger Carty and Philippe O’Sullivan the 2020 Royal Gold Medal for architecture, at a special ceremony at the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) on 13 February 2020. 

Presented in recognition of a lifetime’s work, 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”. 

Shane O’Toole, HonFRIAI, read the citation on behalf of his fellow nominees which include leading international architects and contributors to the wider field of architecture: Paolo Baratta, Ricky Burdett, Hugh Campbell, Kenneth Frampton, Neil Gillespie, Kate Goodwin, Dorte Mandrup, Robert McCarter, Michael McGarry, Niall McLaughlin and Manon Millard.

Shane O’Toole spoke eloquently and named two qualities that are prevalent in Grafton Architects’ work and were “consistently remarked upon by those who know them well: the modesty with which Shelley and Yvonne conduct themselves (even down to the name of the practice) and the extraordinary generosity with which they exercise their profession. Some examples of this guiding spirit of generosity include: Generosity towards the future of our discipline, as evidenced through more than 40 years teaching. Generosity towards places where they build, as evidenced by their constant care for the genius loci. Generosity towards the users of their buildings and civil society in general, through their emphasis on the importance of providing ‘freespace’ in architecture. Generosity towards the planet, by reminding the global profession at the 2018 Venice Biennale that ‘the earth is our client’. Generosity towards their collaborators, past and present, by declining to accept our nomination unless it be in the name of the practice - insisting to us that architecture is, above all, a collaborative endeavour.

The generous spirit of Grafton Architects was also evident on the night when Shelley and Yvonne, in accepting their award, spoke warmly about the future generation of architects, paying tribute to four young women who received President Medals from RIBA President, Professor Alan M Jones earlier in the day.

Speaking about Grafton Architects, RIBA President, Professor Alan M Jones, said: “From designing houses in wind-swept rural landscapes to substantial inner-city university projects, from curating and contributing to world class exhibitions to teaching within some of the world’s leading schools of architecture, the scale and scope of Grafton Architects’ influence is extraordinary. Their extensive talent and generosity of spirit are an inspiration, not only to me and my fellow architects but to all those who have had the pleasure of engaging directly with them and their work.  The breadth and quality of supporters for their Royal Gold Medal nomination was a roll call of significant names from the worlds of academia, arts and architecture, major clients and renowned architects. 

Grafton Architects are impressive role models. Their work, philosophy and ambition are of profound importance, not just in their home country and the UK but across the globe. They show us all how architecture, practiced humbly and humanely, can make the world a better place.” 

The RIAI was represented at the Royal Gold Medal Ceremony by President Ciaran O’Connor and CEO Kathryn Meghen. Also attending was Past President David Browne, who presented the RIAI Gandon Medal last November to Grafton Architects, as well as Past Presidents Carole Pollard and Robin Mandal. A large number of collaborators, friends and supporters of Grafton Architects had travelled to London to mark the award. On 12 February, Shelley and Yvonne delivered a powerful and poetic lecture on their work to an audience of 400 at the RIBA.

Yvonne Farrell and Shelley McNamara co-founded Grafton Architects. With an impressive portfolio of projects, the practice has achieved global recognition most notably for its exemplary education buildings; in 2016 they won the inaugural RIBA International Prize for the bold new vertical campus building for Lima’s specialist engineering university (UTEC) in Peru. 
The Royal Gold Medal 2020 programme of events is sponsored by Arper. 

Image © Morley von Sternberg