Medal symbolises excellence in architecture

by Tania Wannenburg

One of the most prestigious architecture awards went to Irish architects who live their passion to create innovative spaces that are unique.

Irish architects Sheila O’Donnell and John Tuomey received the 2015 Royal Gold Medal, which is considered the world’s most prestigious architecture award.

Given in recognition of a lifetime’s work, the Royal Gold Medal is approved personally by Her Majesty The Queen and is given to a person or group of people who have had a significant influence “either directly or indirectly on the advancement of architecture”.

A tour de force in contemporary Irish and British architecture, Sheila and John co-founded their practice O’Donnell and Tuomey in Dublin during 1988, having previously worked together for internationally renowned architects in London, namely James Stirling Michael Wilford and Associates and Colquhoun & Miller. Their new practice coupled Sheila’s quiet, studied ‘rationalism’ alongside John’s fluent, rhetorical ‘constructivism’ and through their buildings, publications, exhibitions and teaching they have forged a confident new identity for Irish architecture.

In the early 1990s, O’Donnell and Tuomey were part of the ‘Group 91 Architects’ whose collective skill in masterplanning spearheaded the regeneration of Dublin’s neglected Temple Bar area. It was their first permanent building, the Irish Film Institute (1991), that brought them profile and acclaim for its dynamic contribution to the revitalised Dublin quarter.

Their early work, from a Navan, County Meath private home to schools, public housing and community buildings, provided the canvas for them to experiment and evolve their unconventional creative approach and celebrated style. More recent projects include the modest but brilliant Photographers’ Gallery in Soho and the exceptional Saw Swee Hock Student Centre at the London School of Economics which was shortlisted for the 2014 RIBA Stirling Prize.

Speaking when it was announced they would receive architecture’s highest honour, Sheila O’Donnell and John Tuomey said:
“We’re delighted to have been chosen for this unexpected honour. We’re humbled to find ourselves in such a company of heroes, architects whose work we have studied and from whose example we continue to learn. We believe in the social value and the poetic purpose of architecture and the gold medal encourages us to prevail in this most privileged and complicated career.”

According to RIBA President Stephen Hodder, both Sheila and John’s work is always inventive – 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,” he continues. “Sheila and John are at the vanguard of contemporary Irish architecture and I am delighted that they are to receive this lifetime honour.”

Sheila and John have been shortlisted for the RIBA Stirling Prize a record five times, proving that perseverance and dedication along with a touch of patience can reap significant benefits. In addition, they have also exhibited three times at the Venice Architecture Biennale, and are both alumni of the School of Architecture at University College Dublin where they continue to teach and inspire the next generation of architects.

For more information visit www.architecture.com

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