Irish architects Shelia O’Donnell and John Tuomey are the latest to receive a Royal Gold Medal, a badge of lifetime achievement approved personally by Her Majesty The Queen.
A tour de force in contemporary Irish and British architecture, O'Donnell and Tuomey co-founded their practice, O’Donnell and Tuomey, in Dublin in 1988, having previously worked together for internationally renowned architects Stirling Wilford Associates and Colquhoun & Miller in London. Their new practice coupled O’Donnell’s quiet, studied “rationalism” alongside Tuomey’s fluent, rhetorical “constructivism” and through their buildings, publications, exhibitions and teachings they have forged a confident new identity for Irish architecture.
“We’re delighted to have been chosen for this unexpected honor,” said the pair in their acceptance speech. “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.”
In the early 1990s, O’Donnell and Tuomey were part of the “Group 91 Architects” group, whose collective skill in master planning spearheaded the regeneration of Dublin’s neglected Temple Bar. But it was the pair’s first permanent building, the Irish Film Institute (1991), that brought them profile and acclaim for its dynamic contribution to the revitalized Dublin quarter.
Their early work—a private home in Navan, 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 Photographers’ Gallery in Soho and the Saw Swee Hock Student Centre at the London School of Economics.
“O’Donnell and Tuomey’s work is always inventive—striking yet so well considered, particular to its place and brief, beautifully crafted—and ever developing,” said RIBA President Stephen Hodder. “It is an absolute joy and inspiration to hear them describe their work, and always a delight to experience one of their buildings. Sheila and John are at the vanguard of contemporary Irish architecture and I am delighted they are to receive this lifetime honor.”
O’Donnell and Tuomey have been shortlisted for the RIBA Stirling Prize a record five times: in 1999 for Ranelagh Multi-Denominational School (Dublin, Ireland), in 2005 for the Lewis Glucksman Gallery (Cork, Ireland), in 2011 for An Gaeláras Irish Language Arts and Cultural Centre (Derry, Northern Ireland), in 2012 for Lyric Theatre (Belfast, Northern Ireland) and in 2014 for the London School of Economics Saw Swee Hock Students' Centre (London).
Awarded since 1848, previous Royal Gold Medalists include Frank Gehry (2000), Sir Norman Foster (1983), Frank Lloyd Wright (1941) and Sir George Gilbert Scott (1859).