Grafton Architects has won the Royal Institute of British Architect’s (RIBA) International Prize for its UTEC university building in Lima, Peru.

Led by Yvonne Farrell and Shelley McNamara, Grafton has won the first ever global architecture prize for new public architecture from a shortlist that included Zaha Hadid Architects and David Chipperfield.

The winning building, Universidad de Ingeniería y Tecnología (UTEC), and described as a “Brutalist temple to engineering”, was picked from a category that included six world-class cultural buildings from across five continents.

Grafton Architects was praised for creating an entirely new way of thinking about a public building and specifically, a university campus, that was seen as “a modern day Machu Picchu” by the jury.

UTEC was established to give young Peruvians access to qualifications, professional opportunities and to encourage social mobility. Speaking about the building, the RIBA jury said: “UTEC is an exceptional example of civil architecture — a building designed with people at its heart”.

Grafton Architects was established in 1978 by Farrell and McNamara at a time when an all-female firm was highly unusual in an era where the profession was mostly male and where tendering for projects as an all-female office would have been a hugely challenging.

UTEC university campus in Peru by Grafton Architects which won the inaugural 2016 RIBA International Prize for the world’s best new building
UTEC university campus in Peru by Grafton Architects which won the inaugural 2016 RIBA International Prize for the world’s best new building

Previously, the pair picked up a World Building of the Year Award in 2008 for the Universita Luigi Bocconi in Milan, widely acclaimed as a seminal, contemporary work.

Grafton Architects was also shortlisted for the RIBA’s Stirling Prize in 2013 and won the RIBA European Award the same year for the University of Limerick Medical School. The firm was also responsible for the design of the ‘President’s House’ at the University of Limerick, which became a highly-controversial building because of what was seen as an excessive budget for the build.

The pair are currently working on the design of the new Paul Marshall Institute for the London School of Economics and the Parnell Square Cultural Quarter Project featuring a new, Dublin city library and a series of connecting social spaces which is expected to be completed by 2018.

Farrell and McNamara are both graduates of UCD, are Fellows of the RIAI, and International Honorary Fellows of the RIBA. They are elected members of Aosdána, and have taught at the School of Architecture, UCD, for which they are now adjunct professors.

They hold the Kenzo Tange chair at GSD Harvard and the Louis Kahn chair at Yale University, and have been visiting professors at EPFL, Lausanne, Switzerland and at Accademia d’Archittettura, Mendrisio, Switzerland, where they were also appointed as full professors in 2013.


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