The Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) announced today that Irish architects Sheila O’Donnell, Hon. FAIA, and John Tuomey, Hon. FAIA, co-founders of Dublin-based O’Donnell + Tuomey Architects, have won the 2015 Royal Gold Medal for Architecture. After being shortlisted for RIBA’s Stirling Prize—which recognizes the most significant British buildings of the year—a record five times, O’Donnell + Tuomey has earned RIBA’s highest honor.
“O’Donnell + Tuomey’s work is always inventive,” RIBA president Stephen Hodder, Hon. AIA, said in the release. “[It’s] striking, yet so well considered, particular to its place and brief, beautifully crafted, and ever developing. It is an absolute joy and inspiration to hear them describe their work, and always a delight to experience one of their buildings. Sheila and John are at the vanguard of contemporary Irish architecture and I am delighted they are to receive this lifetime honor.”
Joseph Rykwert, an architectural historian and critic who won the Royal Gold Medal in 2014, emphasized the couple’s commitment both to academia and practice in remarks he prepared for this year's announcement. “They are, of course, builders first of all,” Rykwert said in the release. “But they are writers and teachers as well as professionals, active through the Architectural Association of Ireland in whose recent revival they were instrumental, so that their presence on the Irish scene is a powerful one, and their influence as teachers and writers has been extremely important.”
The Royal Gold Medal has been awarded since 1848. Previous winners include Frank Lloyd Wright (1941), Charles and Ray Eames (1979), Norman Foster, Hon. FAIA (1983), and Frank Gehry, FAIA (2000). O’Donnell and Tuomey will receive the Royal Gold Medal at a RIBA event in February 2015 in London.
See O’Donnell + Tuomey’s five RIBA Stirling Prize shortlisted projects below and in ARCHITECT Magazine's Project Gallery:
Joseph Rykwert described the firm's evolution in his statement accompanying the announcement. “Their connection to London and the London scene began when they worked for Stirling and Wilford and then for Colquhoun and Miller," Rykwert said. "But their first contribution in their own right was the modest but brilliant Photographers’ Gallery in Soho, and it was later asserted much more visibly by the now celebrated Saw Swee Hock Student Centre for the London School of Economics, a work of unique architectural distinction for that august institution, and a commission which they won against very stiff competition.”
“Brilliance marks their Lyric Theatre in Belfast as well," Rykwert said in the release. "Again the almost commonplace brick surface links it to its surroundings, and is in dialogue with the inviting intricacy of a complex but easily accessible public building, elegantly sited to form an angle with the embankment of the Lagan river.”
An Architects Journal article (behind paywall) on the 2011 RIBA Stirling Prize shortlist by Stephen Best described the An Gaeláras Irish Language Arts and Cultural Centre as “a turning point in their work." Best noted the project's program as "comprising the usual array of offices, meeting spaces, café, auditorium and bookshop," with "the standard lexicon of contemporary cultural buildings." However, he praised the way in which O’Donnell + Tuomey "neatly side-stepped the obvious pitfalls of a building of this type" to create "a home for Irish-speakers.”
The RIBA Stirling Prize jury from 2005 proclaimed that the Lewis Glucksman Gallery “belongs to the canon of modern buildings." The jury's comments continued with this high praise: "Miles Davis once said that what most artists do is to make simple things complex, but what great artists (and of course that included him) do is to make complex things appear simple. This is one of those rare buildings that fits that definition of greatness.”
In an article on the RIBA Stirling Prize shortlist for 1999, Nonie Nieswand of The Independent described the Ranelagh Multi-Denominational School as "unobtrusive," with elements that helped it blend into its surroundings, such as "the roof profiled in terne-coated steel weathered to look like lead, with timber-clad walls, reclaimed brick and an entry porch faced with stone from an old boundary wall.”