Grafton win Venice architecture prize


GRAFTON ARCHITECTS from Dublin have won a Silver Lion award at the Venice Architecture Biennale for the “impressive presentation” of their plans for a university campus in Lima, Peru, which is on show here.

It is the first time such a prestigious award has been won by Irish architects since Ireland came to the architecture biennale in 2000. It was described as “an incredible honour for us, our team and for Irish architecture in general”, by Grafton’s Yvonne Farrell.

“Grafton Architects have followed up on winning World Building of the Year at Barcelona in 2008, and in Italy, of all places,” said architect and critic Shane O’Toole.

Founders Farrell and Shelley McNamara were invited to the biennale by director Sir David Chipperfield, who chose its theme of Common Ground and gave Grafton a premier position in the main pavilion.

Exploring architecture as the “new geography”, they were inspired by the work of Brazilian architect Paulo Mendes da Rocha and drew on striking similarities between Skellig Michael and Peru’s Machu Picchu. The jury, chaired by Dutch architect Wiel Arets, said the “conceptual and spatial qualities” of Grafton’s installation “demonstrate the considerable potential of this architectural practice in reimagining the urban landscape” for Lima’s technical university.

The Golden Lion for the best project embodying the Common Ground theme went to Swiss-based Urban Think Tank, architecture critic Justin McGuirk and the people of Caracas, Venezuela, for creating a new community in the skeletal frame of an office block.

The Torre David project was represented by a pop-up Venezuelan restaurant with neon signs. “Sharing a meal is the best way to establish common ground for a discussion,” Urban Think Tank said.

The Golden Lion for the best national pavilion went to Japan for an exhibition co-ordinated by Japanese architect Toyo Ito, which shows how shattered trees and other detritus from last year’s earthquake and tsunami could be used to make new homes.

Three national pavilions got “special mentions”: Poland, where noise is the theme; the US, which focuses on “spontaneous interventions” to improve the urban fabric, and Russia, where the spotlight is on the “innovation city” of Skolkovo, east of Moscow.

Several participants in the biennale who failed to gain entry to the invitation-only awards ceremony joined a demonstration outside the Russian pavilion, where protesters wearing colourful balaclavas chanted, “Free Pussy Riot!”

The Irish pavilion, featuring an oscillating bench by Heneghan Peng Architects, did not win an award – other than an informal “best babysitter” citation in the biennale’s daily journal.

Nor did O’Donnell + Tuomey, although its timber tower was highly regarded.

Farrell and McNamara were told they had won the Silver Lion on Tuesday but were sworn to secrecy until the announcement at 11am yesterday. Not even their colleagues knew. Indeed, they were off to the Lido for a swim when they heard. By the time they got back, the awards ceremony was over but not the celebrations.

The Venice Architecture Biennale runs until November 25th.