The Pritzker Prize is one of the world’s foremost architectural prizes, honoring an architect(s) whose built work has produced consistent contributions to humanity through architecture. Established by the Pritzker family through the Hyatt Foundation in 1979, the prize is annually awarded and consists of USD 100,000 and a bronze medallion.
For the 2020 cycle the female duo of architects Yvonne Farrell and Shelley McNamara, have won the Prize. It is the first time that Ireland-based architects have won; they are also the fourth and fifth female architects to have been named recipients of the Prize, joining Zaha Hadid, Kazuyo Sejima of SANAA, and Carme Pigem of RCR Arquitectes. Jury members for the 2020 included: Stephen Breyer, André Aranha Corrêa do Lago, Barry Bergdoll, Deborah Berke, Sejima Kazuyo, Benedetta Tagliabue, Wang Shu, and Martha Thorne.
For 40 years, Farrell and McNamara have been running their own Dublin-based firm, Grafton Architects, and have exhibited their ingenuity, integrity, and devotion to the space they are charged with. The jury citation commends them on the manner in which they conduct their practice, the generosity towards their colleagues, the commitment to architectural excellence, their sensitivity to the environment and the natural elements of the space, and the amount of attention given to the smallest details.
Their collaborative approach was evident in their co-curation of the Venice Architecture Biennale 2018, which they named Freespace, defining it as “a generosity of spirit and a sense of humanity at the core of architecture’s agenda”; and their sensitivity to natural elements was featured in the University Campus of UTEC Lima.
Farrell and McNamara claimed their inclination to monumentality and to making important gestures when necessary, but also asserted that they are not afraid to blend into the background, letting something else take the stage, when necessary. “We think about a heroic space and at the same time think about how a human being feels in our space. We think about our agenda as being a humanist agenda, and that’s at the forefront.” Their outlook is summarized in their Biennale announcement, “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.”
For all these reasons and more, Yvonne Farrell and Shelley McNamara were awarded the 2020, Pritzker Architecture Prize.