Following in the footsteps of Charles and Ray Eames (in 1979) and Michael and Patricia Hopkins (in 1994), Irish architects Sheila O'Donnell and John Tuomey this year wil be the third husband-and-wife team to be awarded the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) Royal Gold Medal, one of the world’s most prestigious architecture awards.
Given in recognition of a lifetime’s body of work, the Royal Gold Medal is approved personally by Her Majesty The Queen and is given to someone who has had a significant influence “either directly or indirectly on the advancement of architecture.” 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).
“We’re delighted to have been chosen for this unexpected honor,” said the pair. “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.”
A tour de force in contemporary Irish and British architecture, O'Donnell and Tuomey co-founded their namesake practice in Dublin during 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 teaching they have forged a new identity for Irish architecture.
“O’Donnell + 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.”
In the early 1990s, O’Donnell and Tuomey were part of the “Group 91 Architects” group whose collective skill in masterplanning spearheaded the regeneration of Dublin’s neglected Temple Bar. It was the pair’s first building, the Irish Film Institute (1991) that brought them profile and acclaim for its dynamic contribution to the revitalized Dublin quarter.
Their early work, from a private home in Navan, Ireland 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 Photographers’ Gallery in Soho and the 2014 RIBA Stirling Prize-shortlisted Saw Swee Hock Student Centre at the London School of Economics.
They have 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.
O'Donnell and Tuomey will be presented with the 2015 Royal Gold Medal at a special event at the RIBA at 66 Portland Place, London W1 on February 3. Tickets will be available in the coming months.