Yvonne Farrell (1951) and Shelley McNamara (1952) met during their collegiate studies at the School of Architecture at University College Dublin (UCD). They studied under rationalist architects who had newly arrived to challenge the preexisting thought and culture of the institution. Upon graduating in 1976, they were each offered the unique opportunity to teach at UCD, where they continued to educate until 2006, and were appointed as adjunct professors in 2015. “Teaching for us has always been a parallel reality,” comments Farrell. “And it’s a way of trying to distill our experience and gift it to other generations coming along so that they actually play a role in the growing of that culture. So it’s a two way thing, we learn from students and hopefully students learn from us.”
In 1978, Farrell and McNamara, along with three others, established Grafton Architects, named after the street of their original office to prioritize the existence of place, rather than individuals. Significant projects have included North King Street Housing (Dublin, Ireland 2000); Urban Institute of Ireland, University College Dublin (Dublin, Ireland 2002); Solstice Arts Centre (Navan, Ireland 2007); Loreto Community School (Milford, Ireland 2006); Offices for the Department of Finance (Dublin, Ireland 2009); and Medical School, University of Limerick (Limerick, Ireland 2012).
Reflecting on their childhoods, McNamara recalls, “My awakening to the experience of architecture was a visit as a child to an enormous 18th-century house on the beautiful main street of the city of Limerick where my aunt lived. Her husband had a beautiful mahogany lined pharmacy shop on the ground floor, and she ran a little Montessori school in a room over the entrance hall. This aroused a sense of wonder as to what a house could be and I remember vividly the sensation of space and light, which was an absolute revelation to me.”
Farrell shares, “One of my earliest memories is of lying on my back on a cushion on the floor underneath the baby grand piano we had at home. While my mother played the piano above me, I remember being aware of the wonderful space filled with music under that walnut instrument. I grew up in Tullamore, Co. Offaly, Ireland—a town of streets and squares, stone warehouses, crafted houses and a canal that cut a wonderful line into the landscape. An oak forest at the edge of the town had a carpet of bluebells every spring. Nature felt very close.”
Of the five original partners, only Farrell and McNamara stayed. Their first international commission away from their native Ireland transpired 25 years later, with Universita Luigi Bocconi in Milan (Milan, Italy 2008), which was awarded World Building of the Year at the 2008 inaugural World Architectural Festival in Barcelona. Other international projects have since followed, with tantamount acclamation from the architectural community. University Campus UTEC Lima (Lima, Peru 2015) was awarded the inaugural RIBA International Prize 2016 by the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA). Institut Mines Télécom (Paris, France 2019) and Université Toulouse 1 Capitole, School of Economics (Toulouse, France 2019) were recently completed.
They are Fellows of The Royal Institute of the Architects of Ireland and International Honorary Fellows of RIBA. They have previously held the Kenzo Tange chair at the Harvard Graduate School of Design (2010) and the Louis Kahn chair at Yale University (2011) and have taught at institutions including École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne and Accademia di Architettura di Mendrisio, and lectured internationally.
Grafton Architects was the recipient of the 2012 Biennale di Venezia Silver Lion Award for the exhibition, Architecture as New Geography. Farrell and McNamara were appointed as 2018 co-curators for the 16th International Architecture Exhibition, la Biennale di Venezia, with the theme FREESPACE. They were awarded the RIAI James Gandon Medal for Lifetime Achievement in Architecture by the RIAI in 2019 and the RIBA Royal Gold Medal in 2020. Yvonne Farrell and Shelley McNamara Biography