Irish architects are counting down to the EU award
On Friday in Barcelona, in the German architect’s iconic pavilion (constructed for the Barcelona International Exhibition in 1929 and recently rebuilt), they will roll out a black carpet for the Mies van der Rohe Awards.
While black is the color of the Mies van der Rohe Foundation (Fundacio Mies van der Rohe), remember that it is an architecture where black is always the new black.
Red carpets are for Hollywood, but this year’s award – € 60,000 and a monumental recognition of the best architecture in Europe over a two-year period – is more akin to the Oscars than it was in the past, as the winner is selected shortly before the stage, the envelope is opened.
The jury (chaired by Italian architect Cino Zucchi, including Danish architect Lene Tranberg, co-founder of Bolles + Wilson Peter L Wilson, Tony Chapman of RIBA, Chinese critic Li Xiangning and head of Mpreis supermarkets in Austria Hansjörg Mölek) did not have to choose a winner immediately after visiting all five buildings on the finalists list: this year they can reflect on their decision.
The judges have flown many flights and may be tired and hungry and decisions may be taken too hastily on time, explains Giovanna Carnevali, director of Fundacio Mies van der Rohe.
On the five-person shortlist is the Irish practice O’Donnell + Tuomey, who recently had a lot of time with it, winning the RIBA Gold Medal and nominated for the Stirling Award for the same LSE building that competes for the EU Contemporary Architecture Award – Mies van Award der Rohe.
The architectural practice of Sheila O’Donnell and John Tuomey is 25 years old, the same as the Mies award. “We’ve spent 25 years successful overnight,” says Tuomey.
It was also a year for Irish architecture. Of the 40 projects that won the Mies award, three were by Irish interns – student housing for the medical school at the University of Limerick by Grafton Architects, Waterford Medieval Museum by Waterford City Council Architects, and Saw Swee Hock student center at LSE by O’Donnell and Tuomey .
London-based Niall McLaughlin – born in Switzerland, whose parents are Irish parents and whose brother John has an architectural practice in Ireland – was also on the list of his illustrious Bishop Edward King Chapel in Oxfordshire, while Hall McKnight of Belfast was in the top 40 for Vartova Square in Copenhagen.
Nine Irish practices were included in the initial list of 420 projects selected by experts from 38 European countries. Most ever, says Carnevali, in Dublin to start the 420 design exhibition at UCD. “It’s amazing, we’ve never had this much from Ireland.”
Their quality, he says, is in the way they work, “which has much more to do with context. This year the work is much quieter. “
John Tuomey, director of the architecture school at UCD, flashes over to this: “This is what we’ve been trying to learn all our lives,” he says, turning to Carnevali, “Maybe not quietly, but softly.”
Yes, agrees Carnevali: “Not silent, but not star architects. It’s gone away from loud buildings. “
So that’s it, noisy buildings are over? He protests a little about having to speak to a journalist, but then laughs and says, “Yes, loud buildings are a thing of the past.”
Now it is about the meaning of the project – in itself, for the city or the client – and not about the architect’s statement, he says. “Mies van der Rohe said quality must go hand in hand.”
Being part of the European conversation is important to O’Donnell and Tuomey, who were in the top forty five times before but never on the last shortlist. “We always felt we were reaching Europe, not the United States,” says O’Donnell, who traveled with Tuomey to Italy, Spain and Greece after college.
“We think of ourselves working here in Dublin as Europeans working in the context of a European city. This is the forum where we look forward to discussing our work. The judges come from all over Europe, so there is a feeling that we are discussing our work outside Ireland and England. “
It talks about how buildings seem to grow out of European streets, while under the American grid system, it was possible to put almost any building on the street or remove it. Here’s how he sees his LSE building: shortly after its completion, the couple drove to Athens and, climbing stairs with seats, platforms and cafes, realized that this was what they had designed in London.
“We are part of a generation that has witnessed the Europeanization of Ireland,” says Tuomey.
He likes the fact that they do not nominate themselves for this award – experts from different countries submit projects. “So there’s an ingrained understanding of the design process.”
The couple share how warm and generous people have been about their recent successes. “Irish architecture is not a nest of vipers,” says Tuomey. “Really?” says Carnevali, a bit surprised.
In turn, they are generous to other architects. “The generation that is coming in Ireland is really talented,” says O’Donnell – now they only need work after the disaster.
Architects must present a brief presentation of their work in Barcelona, and on Friday, when the envelope opens, hopefully they will be part of the exhilarating black carpet buzz.