Today, the Royal Society of British Architects (RIBA) named Yvonne Farrell and Shelly McNamara as the winners of the 2020 Royal Gold Medal for Architecture. Farrell and McNamara, co-founders of Dublin-based Grafton Architects, will be the first all-female partnership to receive the award, which will make them two of only six women ever to be honored with a RIBA Gold Medal. While previous female winners, Ray Eames (1979), Patricia Hopkins (1994), and Sheila O’Donnell (2015), received the honor in tandem with their male partners, Zaha Hadid (2016) remains the only solo female recipient of the RIBA Gold Medal. Farrell and McNamara will receive the medal at “a special ceremony in early 2020,” according to a press release from RIBA.
“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,” said RIBA president Alan Jones in the same release. “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.”
Farrell and McNamara co-founded their practice in 1978 after graduating from University College Dublin in 1974. Under the pair's leadership, the practice quickly gained recognition for award-winning education projects and expanded in 1992 with the arrival of directors Gerard Carty and Philippe O’Sullivan. In 2008, the World Architecture Festival honored Grafton Architects’ Universita Luigi Bocconi in Milan with the World Building of the Year Award, and in 2016 RIBA awarded Grafton Architects with the inaugural International Prize for the Universidad de Ingeniería y Tecnología in Lima, Peru.
Farrell and McNamara also won the 2012 Venice Architecture Biennale’s Silver Lion and served as curators of the 2018 edition, where they asked attendees to engage with the idea of 'Freespace' in architecture.
Grafton Architects has several ongoing projects, such as the Marshall Building for the London School of Economics; the Town House building for Kingston University London; and the Institute Mines Telecom University Building in Paris.