Wonder Women: The 5 female Pritzker Prize Laureates since 1979
From Dame Zaha Hadid to Yvonne Farrell and Shelley McNamara, these five female Pritzker Prize Laureates left an indelible mark in the male-dominated architecture world
March 5, 2020
Written by Denny Mata
In the 41 years that the Pritzker Architecture Prize has been awarded, there have been only three women to receive architecture’s most prestigious honor. The very first female recipient was the late Zaha Hadid in 2004, followed by Kazuyo Sejima (with partner Ryue Nishizawa of SANAA) in 2010, and Carme Pigem (alongside partners Rafael Aranda and Ramon Vilalta for RCR Arquitectes) in 2017. This 2020, two more women join the roster of Pritzker Architecture Prize Laureates: Yvonne Farrell and Shelley McNamara, co-founders of Irish practice Grafton Architects.
The five female Pritzker Prize Laureates, although from different backgrounds and nations, are strikingly similar in some aspects of their career. While they are all practicing architecture (or practiced architecture in the case of the late Zaha Hadid), they remained active in the academe and became educators and lecturers in various architecture schools for several years. Their works are highly collaborative and deeply sensitive to history, natural topography, customs, and cultures of the community within which their buildings are built, while they continue to be inventive and innovative in their designs, use of materials, and construction.
Yvonne Farrell and Shelley McNamara
The first female pair to be Pritzker Prize Laureates, Yvonne Farrell and Shelley McNamara have been practicing architecture together for 40 years. They established Grafton Architects in 1978, along with three other partners, although only Farrell and McNamara stayed on. Prior to that, the two were offered to teach at the University College Dublin upon graduation in 1974, a challenge they accepted and enjoyed until 2006. In 2010, they held the Kenzo Tange chair at GSD Harvard and in 2011, the Louis Kahn chair at Yale University. They have been visiting professors in Switzerland and lecturers internationally. Besides the Pritzker Prize, Farrell and McNamara also received the 2012 Biennale di Venezia Silver Lion Award for the exhibition, Architecture as New Geography and later on appointed as 2018 co-curators for the 16th International Architecture Exhibition, la Biennale di Venezia, with the theme FREESPACE. In 2019, the duo was awarded the RIAI James Gandon Medal for Lifetime Achievement in Architecture by the RIAI, and this year, the RIBA Royal Gold Medal.
The award-winning design duo and educators’ works are mostly located in Ireland, with commissions in Italy, France, and Peru. Grafton Architects has been designing numerous educational buildings, housing, and cultural and civic institutions, which the Jury describes as “‘good neighbors’ that seek to make a contribution beyond the boundaries of the building and to make a city work better.”
Some of Grafton Architects’ significant projects include Urban Institute of Ireland (Dublin, Ireland 2002); Loreto Community School (Milford, Ireland 2006); Università Luigi Bocconi (Milan, Italy 2008); Offices for the Department of Finance (Dublin, Ireland 2009); Medical School, University of Limerick (Limerick, Ireland 2012); University Campus UTEC Lima (Lima, Peru 2015); Université Toulouse 1 Capitole, School of Economics (Toulouse, France 2019); and, Institut Mines Télécom (Paris, France 2019).
Carme Pigem is the third of the female Pritzker Prize Laureates, the only woman in the design trio of RCR Arquitectes. She co-founded RCR Arquitectes in Olot, Girona, Spain a year after completing her studies in architecture at the School of Architecture in Valles in 1987. Pigem, Aranda, and Vilalta are the first trio honored with the Pritzker Architecture Prize. Like Grafton Architects’ co-founders, Pigem and her studio partners Aranda and Vilalta taught at their collegiate school from 1989 to 2001, with a focus on urbanism, landscape architecture, and design studio. In 2012, RCR Arquitectes established an international summer workshop at their studio based in the Barberí Laboratory.
“All their works have a strong sense of place and are powerfully connected to the surrounding landscape. This connection comes from understanding—history, the natural topography, customs, and cultures, among other things—and observing and experiencing light, shade, colors, and the seasons,” the 2017 Jury describes their oeuvre.
Their notable works include Tossols-Basil Athletics Track (Olot, Girona, Spain 2000) Bell-Loc Winery (Palamós, Girona, Spain 2007); San Antoni – Joan Oliver Library, Senior Citizens Center and Cándida Pérez Gardens (Barcelona, Spain 2007); Barberí Laboratory (Olot, Girona, Spain 2008); El Petit Comte Kindergarten (Besalú, Girona, Spain 2010); Les Cols Restaurant (Olot, Girona, Spain 2011); La Lira Theater Public Open Space, in collaboration with J. Puigcorbé (Ripoll, Girona, Spain 2011); and, Soulages Museum (Rodez, France 2014).
Along with longstanding creative partner Ryue Nishizawa (also her first hire at her first studio, Kazuyo Sejima & Associates), Sejima was honored with the Pritzker Prize in 2010, making her the second woman to receive such an accolade. Besides being an award-winning architect, Sejima of the Tokyo-based architecture studio SANAA was also an educator. Sejima taught at Princeton University, the Polytechnique de Lausanne, Tama Art University, and Keio University. Prior to her first studio, she worked for the 2013 Pritzker Prize Laureate Toyo Ito. Sejima was also the first woman to be appointed director of architecture sector for the 2010 Venice Biennale.
Sejima and Nishizawa established SANAA in 1995 and has produced an extensive list of completed works, notably educational, cultural and civic institutions in Japan, Germany, England, Spain, France, the Netherlands, and the United States. “The buildings by Sejima and Nishizawa seem deceptively simple. The architects hold a vision of a building as a seamless whole, where the physical presence retreats and forms a sensuous background for people, objects, activities, and landscapes,” the 2017 jury cites.
Among the duo’s noteworthy works include O-Museum (Iida, Nagano, Japan 1999); 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art (Kanazawa, Ishikawa, Japan 2004); Zollverein School of Management and Design (Essen, Germany 2006); Glass Museum, Toledo Museum of Art (Toledo, Ohio 2006); New Museum of Contemporary Art (New York, New York 2007); and, The Rolex Learning Center, Ecole Polytechnique Federale (Lausanne, Switzerland 2009).
The first female recipient of the Pritzker Prize, awarded in 2004 was the late Dame Zaha Hadid. Her win was historic, coming after a 26-year unbroken parade of male Pritzker laureates. The Iraqi-born British citizen established her studio Zaha Hadid Architects in London in 1980 after her stint with the Office of Metropolitan Architecture. Similar to the four other female Pritzker laureates, Hadid taught architecture at the Architectural Association with Rem Koolhas and Elia Zenghelis until 1987. She held chairs and guest professorship in universities worldwide.
2004 Pritzker Prize jury chairman, Lord Rothschild, commented: “At the same time as her theoretical and academic work, as a practicing architect, Zaha Hadid has been unswerving in her commitment to modernism. Always inventive, she’s moved away from existing typology, from high tech, and has shifted the geometry of buildings.”
Among her extensive and impressive works are Vitra Fire Station (Weil am Rheim, Germany 1993); LFone Landesgartenschau (Weil am Rheim, Germany 1999); Car Park and Terminus Hoenheim North (Strasbourg, France 2001); Bergisel Ski Jump (Innsbruck, Asutria 2002); The Richard and Lois Rosenthal Center for Contemporary Art (Cincinnati, Ohio 2003); Phaeno Science Center (Wolfsburg, Germany 2005); Zaragoza Bridge Pavilion (Zaragoza, Spain 2008); London Aquatics Center (London, United Kingdom 2011); and, Heydar Aliyev Centre (Baku, Azerbaijan 2012).