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. (The Pritzker Architecture Prize). The Pritzker Prize is the most honourable and prestigious award that can be won in the field of international architecture. It is considered the Nobel Prize for architecture. The 47th and 48th recipients of the award are Yvonne Farrell and Shelley McNamara, friends and colleagues who are both educators and architects and have presented masterful works. The inventions they produce around the world draw attention with their local sensitivity and originality. Thus, they created rich yet modest, simple yet complex, powerful yet delicate buildings. Being cosmopolitan, collaborative work, and having respect for the environment made them one and only. 

With their experience of more than 40 years, they understood the importance of architecture for human life very well and believed deeply in it. They took responsibility for the characters of the places they were in, and they worked hard, and with this sensitivity, they deserved to win the award in 2020. They became the first two female architects from Ireland to win the award.

Pritzker Architecture Prize winners: Yvonne Farrell and Shelley McNamara - Sheet1
Yvonne Farrell, left, and Shelley McNamara are the 2017 Thomas Jefferson Foundation Medalists in Architecture_©

Within the ethos of practise such as ours, we have so often struggled to find space for the implementation of such values as humanism, craft, generosity, and cultural connection with each place and context within which we work. It is therefore extremely gratifying that this recognition is bestowed upon us and our practice and upon the body of work we have managed to produce over a long number of years,” says Shelley McNamara.

“Architecture could be described as one of the most complex and important cultural activities on the planet,” says Yvonne Farrell. “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 honour.” (Quito, 2020)

Who are they?

Yvonne Farrell and Shelley McNamara co-founded Dublin-based Grafton Architects a few years after graduating from University College Dublin (UCD). When they were founded, there were three other people with them, but only two of them were able to stay together. In addition to being architects, both of them are educators, teaching at many universities. They held the Kenzo Tange Chair at Harvard Design School (2010) and the Louis Kahn Chair at Yale University (2011). They taught at University College Dublin, École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne and Accademia di Architettura di Mendrisiode. This allowed them to pass on their experiences to new generations. Educational buildings and university campus designs are their best-known works. The Universita Luigi Bocconi in Milan (Milan, Italy,2008) was awarded the World Building of the Year at the 2008 inaugural World Architectural Festival in Barcelona. In 2015, University Campus UTEC Lima (Lima, Peru, 2015) was granted the inaugural RIBA International Prize 2016 by the Royal Institute of British Architects.

Pritzker Architecture Prize winners: Yvonne Farrell and Shelley McNamara - Sheet2
Universita Luigi Bocconi / Grafton Architects_©Frederico Brunetti

In 2018, they co-curated the Freespace theme at the Venice Biennale. The 16th International Architecture Exhibition was held here. They are Fellows of the Royal Institute of the Architects of Ireland and International Honorary Fellows of RIBA. They have business not only in Ireland but also in the United Kingdom, France, Italy, and Peru. Universita Luigi Bocconi in Milan (Milan, Italy 2008) building was awarded the World Building of the Year at the 2008 World Architectural Festival in Barcelona.

Some of the most important buildings of the Irish duo include: Université Toulouse 1 Capitole, School of Economics, (Toulouse, France, 2019); University Campus UTEC Lima, (Lima, Peru, 2015); Medical School, University of Limerick, (Limerick, Ireland, 2012); Offices for the Department of Finance, (Dublin, Ireland, 2009); Universita Luigi Bocconi,( Milan, Italy, 2008); Loreto Community School,( Milford, Ireland, 2006); Urban Institute of Ireland, (Dublin, Ireland, 2002)

Pritzker Architecture Prize winners: Yvonne Farrell and Shelley McNamara - Sheet3
University of Limerick Medical School / Grafton Architects_©Dennis Gilbert

Approaches to architecture

The way they do what they do, namely cooperation and partnership, is the most important feature that makes them different. They bring a completely different perspective to how architecture should be. They build strong relationships with the context in their work. The characteristic features of Ireland, where they were born, raised, and educated, have important effects on their understanding of architecture. Due to the climatic conditions of Ireland, they are very sensitive to the inside and outside. And they claim that the light is free. That’s why the use of natural light is evident in buildings like the Loreto Community School or Medical School, University of Limerick. They also ponder on how to properly use resources in their structures. They are very careful in their every intervention and can reflect this very well in modern times. In areas that can be considered challenging, such as the University Campus UTEC Lima, they overcome this situation by paying attention to the location-specific situation. A qualified and modest language constitutes their architectural approach.

Pritzker Architecture Prize winners: Yvonne Farrell and Shelley McNamara - Sheet4
Loreto Community School – Milford_©Ros Kavanagh
Pritzker Architecture Prize winners: Yvonne Farrell and Shelley McNamara - Sheet5
Engineering and Technology University – UTEC / Grafton Architects + Shell Arquitectos_©Iwan Baan


  1. The Pritzker Architecture Prize. Purpose [online].  Available at:,%E2%80%9Cthe%20profession’s%20highest%20honor.%E2%80%9D. [Accessed 27 March 2022].
  2. Quito, A. (2020). Architecture’s most prestigious prize has been awarded to two women, [online]. Available at:,we%20work%2C%E2%80%9D%20said%20McNamara[Accessed 27 March 2022]

It is a great passion for Elif Demirci, a student of the department of architecture, to examine all the works, materials and projects going on in the field of architecture. She believes that her writings will improve the built environment.