Irish architects Sheila O'Donnell and John Tuomey are 2015's Royal Gold Medal recipients
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Irish architects Sheila O'Donnell and John Tuomey are 2015's Royal Gold Medal recipients

IRISH architects Sheila O'Donnell and John Tuomey have been named today as the 2015 recipients of the Royal Gold Medal, the world’s most prestigious architecture award.

Given in recognition of a lifetime’s work, the Royal Gold Medal - handed out since 1848 - is approved personally by the Queen.

It is given to a person or group of people who have had a significant influence “either directly or indirectly on the advancement of architecture”.

Previous Royal Gold Medallists include Frank Gehry, the LA-based architect behind Prague’s Dancing House and Sir Norman Foster whose projects include Wembley Stadium among many others.

It is 40 years since the Medal has been awarded to an Irish practice. The pair are also among the accolade’s youngest recipients.

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In nominating Sheila O’Donnell and John Tuomey for the Medal, architect and previous Honours Committee member Niall McLaughlin said: “When the death of Ronnie Tallon in June, I realised that he was Ireland’s last surviving contact with the Royal Gold Medal. The period since the award to Michael Scott in 1975 has been very productive for Irish architecture.”

He added: “One can think of many distinguished practices that have developed there during the extraordinary boom in construction between 1995 and 2008, including Heneghan Peng and Grafton Architects. Their reputations will grow in Britain over the next few years, but I do think that the Irish practice with the most significant influence over the last two decades has been O’Donnell + Tuomey.”

A tour de force in contemporary Irish and British architecture, Sheila O'Donnell and John Tuomey co-founded their practice O’Donnell + Tuomey in Dublin during 1988.

They previously worked together for internationally renowned architects Stirling Wilford Associates and Colquhoun & Miller in London.

In the early 1990s, O’Donnell and Tuomey were part of the ‘Group 91 Architects’ group whose collective skill in master-planning spearheaded the regeneration of Dublin’s neglected Temple Bar.

But it was the pair’s first permanent building, the Irish Film Institute (1991) that brought them profile and acclaim for its dynamic contribution to the revitalised Dublin quarter.

More recent projects include the modest but brilliant Photographers’ Gallery in Soho and the exceptional 2014 RIBA Stirling Prize-shortlisted Saw Swee Hock Student Centre at the London School of Economics.

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“We’re delighted to have been chosen for this unexpected honour,” said the pair, who are both alumni of University College Dublin. “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.”

Royal Institute of British Architects President Stephen Hodder paid tribute to the architects’ achievements.

“O’Donnell + Tuomey’s work is always inventive– striking yet so well considered, particular to its place and brief, beautifully crafted – and ever developing,” he said.

“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 honour.”

O’Donnell + Tuomey have been shortlisted for the RIBA Stirling Prize a record five times, in 1999 for Ranelagh Multi-Denominational School (Dublin, Ireland), 2005 for the Lewis Glucksman Gallery (Cork, Ireland), 2011 for An Gaeláras Irish Language Arts and Cultural Centre (Derry, North of Ireland) and 2012 for Lyric Theatre (Belfast, North of Ireland) and in 2014 for the London School of Economics Saw Swee Hock Students' Centre (London, England).

Sheila and John will be presented with the 2015 Royal Gold Medal at a special event at RIBA in London on February 3, 2015.