Pritzker Architecture Prize goes to two women for the first time

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Pritzker Architecture Prize goes to two women for the first time
In a photo provided by Alice Clancy, Yvonne Farrell, left, and Shelley McNamara, of Grafton Architects in Dublin. Farrell and McNamara were selected to receive the 2020 Pritzker Prize, making them the first two women to share the profession’s highest honor on their design of the University of Engineering and Technology in Lima, Peru. Alice Clancy via The New York Times.

by Robin Pogrebin

NEW YORK (NYT NEWS SERVICE).- When designing a campus for a new University of Engineering and Technology in Lima, Peru, the Dublin-based architects Yvonne Farrell and Shelley McNamara thought deeply about how to integrate the wind and the rain.

It is because of that sensitivity to the natural elements, as well as qualities like their emphasis on collaboration, that the pair was selected to receive the 2020 Pritzker Prize, making them the first two women to share the profession’s highest honor.

“Their approach to architecture is always honest, revealing an understanding of the processes of design and construction from large-scale structures to the smallest details,” the jury’s citation said. “It is often in these details, especially in buildings with modest budgets, where a big impact can be felt.

In a telephone interview, Farrell and McNamara said they have not sought the kind of public recognition the prize represents, preferring to be known for “a way of thinking and a set of values,” McNamara said, rather than for some kind of identifiable design signature.

Their approach is apparent in projects like North King Street Housing in Dublin (2000), where an inner courtyard offers “a welcome respite from the adjacent busy streets,” the Pritzker jury said. Their Urban Institute of Ireland (Dublin, 2002) “employs what the architects call a ‘crafted skin,’” the jury said, “to create a visually interesting building through changes in materials responding to openings, folds, needs for shade and other concerns.”

The two have practiced together for 40 years, meeting at University College Dublin in 1974 and helping to found their firm, Grafton Architects, in Dublin in 1978.

The firm, which has a staff of 38, won the inaugural RIBA International Prize for its University of Engineering and Technology, known as “UTEC” building in Peru, a vertical campus of open and enclosed spaces that the judges called a “modern-day Machu Picchu.”

The architects said they had, indeed, been inspired by Machu Picchu, in particular its stacked terraces and stones that meld into one another like cushions. “We find cues in local examples,” Farrell said, “like architectural detectives.”

While they have received their share of accolades, the pair consider the anointing of starchitects misguided. “There are people whose work should be more recognized sometimes,” Farrell said. “The media goes for the easy thing — eye candy. Architecture is much more. It infiltrates our lives in a much deeper way.”

© 2020 The New York Times Company

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