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Grafton Architects’ Concrete Connoisseurs Win 2020 Pritzker Prize

“Concrete connoisseurs” Yvonne Farrell and Shelley McNamara of Ireland’s Grafton Architects, were awarded his week with the annual Pritzker Prize, architecture’s most prestigious honor, for Peru’s Universidad de Ingeniería y Tecnología (UTEC) in Lima. Conceived as a concrete cliff, the structure is massive, but the architects focus on natural light and ventilation makes it airy and pleasant. The cantilevered walkways and terraced gardens create intimate spaces within the 35,000m2 concrete building. It is built over a ravine, so it has the appearance of a architectonic cliff.

Architecture critic Oliver Wainwright noted in an article in the Guardian that “From a distance, UTEC looks like ‘a fragment of an ancient colosseum.’” But when you move in, “you get a thrilling view of intersecting concrete beams and slabs, an aerial ballet of staggered terraces connected by flying walkways and leaping staircases.” Though large in scale, he added, the building offers “little nooks and patio gardens, sheltered places to be alone and enjoy the view out over the city.”

The Pritzker Architecture Prize has been awarded annually since 1979. Yvonne Farrell and Shelley McNamara become only the fourth and fifth women to received this honor.

According to their website, the purpose of the prize is to, “To honor a living architect or architects whose built work demonstrates a combination of those qualities of talent, vision, and commitment, which has produced consistent and significant contributions to humanity and the built environment through the art of architecture.

“The international prize, which is awarded each year to a living architect/s for significant achievement, was established by the Pritzker family of Chicago through their Hyatt Foundation in 1979. It is granted annually and is often referred to as “architecture’s Nobel” and “the profession’s highest honor.”

“The award consists of $100,000 (US) and a bronze medallion. The award is conferred on the laureate/s at a ceremony held at an architecturally significant site throughout the world.”

As reported in a news article in the Los Angeles Times, “Without grand or frivolous gestures, they have managed to create buildings that are monumental institutional presences when appropriate,” reads the citation issued by the Pritzker jury, “but even so they are zoned and detailed in such a way as to produce more intimate spaces that create community within.”

In the Pritzker Award Announcement, Yvonne Farrell states, “Architecture could be described as one of the most complex and important cultural activities on the planet. To be an architect is an enormous privilege. To win this prize is a wonderful endorsement of our belief in architecture. Thank you for this great honor.” “It is also a wonderful recognition of the ambition and vision of the clients who commissioned us and enabled us to bring our buildings to fruition,” remarks Shelley McNamara.

The team is known for their nuanced use of materials, which often includes poured concrete. Their designs are often referred to as “generous” and their use of concrete allow for open spaces, beautiful views, fit naturally into urban environments, and show a mastery of modern materials, practices and craft.

The duos is quote in an article in MetroStyle as saying:

“Architecture is a framework for human life. It anchors us and connects us to the world in a way which possibly no other space-making discipline can.” – Shelley McNamara

“At the core of our practice is a real belief that architecture matters. It is a cultural spatial phenomenon that people invent.” – Yvonne Gaffell