Grafton Architects

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Grafton Architects was established in 1978. Directors Yvonne Farrell & Shelley McNamara are both graduates of University College Dublin (UCD) and taught at the UCD School of Architecture from 1976 to 2002. They have been visiting professors at Accademia di architettura in Mendrisio and at EPF Lausanne, held the Kenzo Tange chair at GSD Harvard and the Louis Kahn chair at Yale University.
Grafton Architects are winners of numerous international awards, including the World Building of the Year Award 2008 for their building at Università Luigi Bocconi in Milan. They are currently working on commissions for construction of the new School of Economics for Université Toulouse 1 Capitole and a new campus for the Universidad Nacional de Ingeniería in Lima, Peru.

Date of presentation

4 Mar, 2014


Both Yvonne Farrell and Shelley McNamara understand architecture as a “silent language that speaks”, a language that can be understood by humanity regardless of cultural specificities. As both architects smoothly oscillate between adressing the audience, their melodic accent evokes their city of Dublin and the deep Irish appreciation for the spoken and sung word. Their acute awareness of the rich culture on Europe’s periphery might also explain the willingness to practice exclusively within the confines of Dublin – literally practicing to build small, low-budget projects – before becoming more international in scope.
Both Yvonne Farrell and Shelley McNamara point out that the experience of making small-scale buildings for clients in volatile economic conditions makes them avoid over-intellectualizing their work. Indeed, rather than presenting conceptualized summaries of their projects, they talk of the poetic sensations they gather at a site, or the local details of construction that connects a building to its place. For them, a brick in Toulouse has its own emotional quality due to its dimensions and materiality, the fog in Lima has an intensity particular to that stretch of coastline, and the light in the Cathedral of Prague has an almost liquid quality. Hence the presentation of the architects becomes less about specific projects – such as their award-winning building for Universita Luigi Bocconi in Milan or current projects in France and Peru – and more about a general approach to making architecture. The audience is given a glimpse into the working mind of the authors, yet the time is too short to hear the buildings speak for themselves. However, the enthusiasm of both architects certainly compels one to delve more deeply into the projects at a later stage, to answer lingering questions on how the universal and specific are resolved in each individual case.
Citing writer Samuel Beckett, a fellow Dubliner, on how using a foreign language can enrich one’s own use and understanding of native words, Yvonne Farrell and Shelley McNamara take each new experience as an opportunity to dig deeper towards the roots of their own architectural expression.

Matthew Tovstiga

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