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'.
Yvonne Farrell and Shelley McNamara co-founded Dublin-based Grafton Architects in 1978 and work alongside directors Gerard Carty and Philippe O’Sullivan, who joined the practice in 1992. With an impressive portfolio of projects, the people-centred practice has achieved global recognition most notably for its exemplary education buildings, many of which were commissioned following international competitions.
In 2013 Grafton Architects’ University of Limerick Medical School was shortlisted for the RIBA Stirling Prize for the UK’s best building;
in 2016 they won the inaugural RIBA International Prize for their bold new ‘vertical campus’ building for Lima’s specialist engineering university (UTEC) in Peru.
They are currently working on The Marshall Building for the London School of Economics (LSE);
the Town House building for Kingston University London;
the School of Economics for the University Toulouse 1 Capitole;
Institute Mines Telecom University Building in Paris Saclay;
the City Library & Parnell Square Cultural Quarter project in Dublin, with Shaffery Architects;
and the new HQ for the Electricity Supply Board in Dublin, with O'Mahony Pike architects; all won by international competition.
The practice’s name was inspired by their original office on Grafton Street in central Dublin, a city that has influenced their approach to architecture and that they have helped to shape. As part of Group '91 - a collective of eight young practices - in the 1990s, they were involved in the regeneration of Dublin's Temple Bar district.
Grafton Architects’ directors have taught and lectured at some of the world’s most celebrated universities. They have curated exhibitions and exhibited their own work globally – inspiring audiences all over the world. In 2018 Yvonne Farrell and Shelley McNamara curated the Venice Architecture Biennale, with the theme of ‘Freespace’ and an emphasis on humanity and generosity – principles which run throughout their own practice.
On hearing the news that they will receive the Royal Gold Medal in 2020, Yvonne Farrell and Shelley McNamara said:
“Like architects around the world, everyone in Grafton Architects works hard to give each project the attention needed to hopefully enrich people’s lives. For us, architecture is an optimistic profession, with the opportunity to anticipate future realities. It is of the highest cultural importance because it is the built enclosure of human lives. It translates people’s needs and dreams into built form, into the silent language of space.
We share this honour with all our clients, design teams, contractors and colleagues - past and current - working together, we translate ideas into reality.
The news that Grafton Architects are to receive the RIBA 2020 Royal Gold Medal makes this a very special and happy moment in our lives. A sincere ‘Thank you’ to all those involved in making it possible!”
RIBA President, Alan 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. I am delighted that Grafton Architects will receive the 2020 Royal Gold Medal in recognition of their exceptional qualities.”
The Royal Gold Medal will be presented to Grafton Architects at a special ceremony in early 2020.