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Dublin: 15 °C Wednesday 18 September, 2019
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Two Irish architects have scooped a world prize for a brutalist university building

Grafton Architects, led by Yvonne Farrell and Shelley McNamara, won the first-ever RIBA International Prize for their project in Lima, Peru.

The new University of Engineering in Lima, Peru.
The new University of Engineering in Lima, Peru.
Image: Iwaan Baan/Grafton Architects

AT A TIME when controversial brutalist architecture is due to be torn down across Dublin city centre, two female Irish architects have scooped a prestigious architecture prize with a building in the brutalist style in Peru.

Yvonne Farrell and Shelley McNamara of Grafton Architects won the first-ever RIBA International Prize for designing the new Engineering University in the Peruvian capital of Lima.

Brutalist architecture refers to large, block-like buildings built in the decades after the Second World War. Examples in Dublin include Hawkins House, Apollo House, O’Connell Street House and College House.

The prize, awarded by the Royal Institute of British Architects, was chosen by a panel chaired by renowned architect Lord Richard Rogers.

Dublin’s Grafton Architects were praised by the jury for creating an entirely new way of thinking about public buildings. The university campus won praise as  a “modern day Machu Picchu”.

Speaking about the building, the RIBA jury said:

“UTEC is an exceptional example of civil architecture – a building designed with people at its heart.

U2NyZWVuIFNob3QgMjAxNi0xMS0yMiBhdCAxMC41Ny4xNy5wbmc= (1) The new Engineering University building in Lima Source: RIBA

“Grafton Architects have created a new way to think about a university campus, with a distinctive ‘vertical campus’ structure responding to the temperate climatic conditions and referencing Peru’s terrain and heritage,” the RIBA statement added.

Sitting on the border of two residential districts in Lima, in sections UTEC perches tantalisingly on the edge of a ravine.

“Seen from across the ravine it is as bold and as pure a statement of the symbiosis between architecture and engineering as could be imagined; a piece of geology imposed on its pivotal site, mirroring the organic curve of the landscape and accommodating itself in the city.

To its close neighbours, it is a series of landscaped terraces with clefts, overhangs and grottos, a modern-day Machu Picchu.

The worst examples of brutalist style are frequently criticised for shutting off buildings from their immediate environment, and for their chiefly concrete structure, but a new breed of brutalist buildings seeks to update the genre in a more sympathetic style.

Grafton Architects won the World Building of the Year Award in 2008 for a university building in Milan, and were also behind the redesign of the Department of Finance building in Dublin 2.

Grafton Finance Grafton Architecture's Department of Finance building in Dublin 2. Source: Grafton Architects

In a joint statement, Grafton Architects Yvonne Farrell and Shelley McNamara said:

For Grafton Architects, we found that the educational aspirations of the client together with the unique climatic conditions of Lima gave us the opportunity to ‘invent’ a new vertical campus for their new University of Engineering.

“We would like to acknowledge the important role played by our local architects in Lima, Shell Arquitectos. We would like to thank UTEC for their belief in architecture and in us and for giving us the wonderful opportunity to work on this special project.”

The Universidad de Ingeniería y Tecnología (UTEC) was built in the Barranco district of Lima.

In Dublin city centre, several examples of brutalist architecture are about to undergo demolition or extensive renovation, including Hawkins House, the ESB building on Fitzwilliam Street and many other buildings in Dublin 2.

Brutalism refers to a peculiarly concrete strain of modernist architecture which sprang up across Europe following the Second World War.

The term derives from the French word for “raw”, and was initially an outward expression of moral seriousness in contrast to the supposed frivolity of earlier styles.

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