Meeting Grafton Architects: Irish Ladies Leading the Way!


Shannon Chance with Shelley McNamara and Yvonne Farrell of Dublin-based Grafton Architects.

I finally got to meet Shelley McNamara and Yvonne Farrell, founders of Grafton Architects and designers of my home here in Dublin.

You may recall blogs I posted in October 2012 titled Hats off to Grafton Architects, a post about sun angles in winter, and a video clip I made shortly after moving into “my Dublin Castle.” I have attached my apartment tour which is quite goofy. In it, explained features unique to Ireland and the EU, but I called the water tank “electric storage.” That’s factually true, but here they use the term just for the wall heaters that heat bricks in the night, when electricity costs less, and radiate that heat our during the day.

I learned more about electric storage heat from my maintenance guy, Keith Brown. I posted a blog where he showed me how they work. I sure do miss Keith as he was able to fix anything, usually the way my grandpa would have! Pa grew up during the Great Depression and was quite thrifty! Keith, on the other hand, moved to Spain.

I, on the other hand, am not moving to Spain any time soon. But this flat is plenty warm and sunny.

I love every minute in this place, perched high in the Smithfield Lofts that Yvonne and Shelley designed back in 2006. Last night, I got to tell them how much I enjoy living here.

Grafton Architects

Covers from “Totally Dublin”

I had braved the lashing rain, trotting across town to pick up new specs at Ace and Tate and then over to Fumbally for an event produced by the magazine Totally Dublin, which ran a feature on them in January 2018 that I still have on my coffee table.

The talks weren’t starting on time. Or rather, Irish evening-time tends to run quite behind what the clock face shows. This event ran 8-10 PM, rather than the 7-8:30 PM published. In any case, I had time to grab a slice of cake and get psyched up to hear these amazing architects talk.

In the interim, I decided to hop across the room to tell Yvonne and Shelley that I’m a big fan and I love my home.


A Dickens Christmas in cozy Smithfield

I showed them the photo I took last week from my balcony, which I’d posted in an earlier blog.

They seemed delighted to hear their building was loved, as that construction process was rough, with the developer cutting corners and ultimately going out of business when the economy crashed. I’d been told that unfortunate story by my colleagues when I moved in and was glad to help these architects reconnect with their creation. Incidentally, any criticisms I’ve ever had of this building are due to poor workmanship and Ireland’s very strange fire codes.


Shelley McNamara sharing insights

These architects are now world-famous. They curated the Venice Biennale this year, bringing Irish architecture and Irish design to the fore of the world stage. They dedicated the 2018 Biennale to “Freespace,” which I might describe as third-space, public space where everyone is welcome and treated with equal dignity and respect.

Last night, Shelley and Yvonne discussed their role in the Biennale and working together since they first met in architecture school at UCD where they graduated in 1974. Imagine, they entered in a class that was gender balanced at the end of the 1960s!

Consider that the year Shelley and Yvonne entered architecture school, women were not allowed to study this subject in many universities in the USA, including the University of Virginia (a place Yvonne and Shelley mentioned to me last night). UVA began admitting women in the year 1970. The institution had admitted a few women before this date because they had a medical school that needed nurses; my mom earned a Bachelors in Nursing there at UVA in the mid-60s.

What a revelation, to learn there was gender balance in architecture admissions here in Ireland at the same time there were 0% women and 100% men in architecture at UVA!

Yvonne and Shelley said they’d never experienced gender discrimination in their lifetimes as architects, designing buildings in Ireland, Peru, Italy, Spain, France…. That was quite inspiring to hear!

Yesterday evening also featured discussions with the photographer and artistic director of the magazine’s October cover piece on “The Bumbles” and discussion and performance by busker NC Lawlor, an Irish man reared in Manchester and now living and performing in many types of venues in Dublin. You’ll have to find him busking on Grafton Street if you want to hear him first hand!

Below are photos of the evening, along with pics I’ve snapped over time of my cozy flat.

Hats Off to Grafton Architects

Looking toward the southwest, with the smokestack of the Jameson Distillery and in the background. Smithfield Lofts is in the lower center of the image. (Photo from Apple Maps.)

Joan Calahin, an architect I met on the Open House Dublin tour of Smithfield, told me that the building where we live was the result of a design competition.  The site was blighted and a competition was held to fill it in a skillful way.  The wood used on the exterior hadn’t been weathering well (raising the ire of the public), and it was recently treated and stained. Today the wood looks great!

Smithfield Lofts, designed by Grafton Architects.

The architects were Yvonne Farrell and Shelley McNamara of the firm Grafton Architects. Their webpage about the project could really use Dave’s photographic prowess (the photos of this project really don’t do it justice).  But I assure you, the design is worthy of an award.  I could tell that from several thousand miles away (on the property rental site,

Sima says Grafton Architects is her favorite firm in Ireland, but notes that fact they haven’t had this project professionally photographed shows that they’re not all that proud of it.

They would have had that done if they had entered it for a design award, for instance.  And, the firm’s list of design awards is quite impressive, so they know what they’re doing in many regards.

Although this building reflects quality design, it’s not Grafton Architects’ very best work. I have a number of critiques despite the fact that I enjoy the quality of life it affords me.

And, it has gotten an enthusiastic response from many people (including my apartment-hunting self).

In February 2007, The Irish Times stated “This smart looking building… is situated in the city centre on a landmark site on the corner of Dublin’s Church Street and North King Street. Striking design by Grafton Architects marks it out as one of the more well-thought out, visually appealing apartment schemes.”

Shelley McNamara and Yvonne Farrell accepted the Silver Lion award at the Venice Bienaale on 29 August 2012. (Photo from the RIAI website.)

In April that year, the same paper featuredthe two designers:

“Carrying the international standard for Ireland’s architects are McNamara and Farrell, who founded Grafton Architects in Dublin in 1977. If you want a university campus sketched up, they’re the people to go to — but these days, sadly, they’re hard to commission when it comes to designing one-off homes.  Farrell and McNamara have been at the forefront developing Ireland’s architectural reputation abroad — in 1999/2000, they won the design competition for Luigi Bocconi University in Milan, a project set to be completed at the end of this year.  In 2003 they were honoured with the European Union’s Mies van der Rohe award for their civic offices in Dunshaughlin, Co Meath. McNamara was the first architect to be elected to Aosdana, Ireland’s academy of artists, and both she and Farrell lecture at UCD.  Between the civic and cultural buildings that have become their hallmark, they still occasionally design the odd private home — but such projects are unusual.  They have designed and built houses and apartments in Dublin, Mayo, Galway and Clare, winning numerous awards from the RIAI and AAI. McNamara built her own mews home, where she lives with her husband, the painter Michael Kane, which incorporates a studio.  In 1999, the firm’s Hall House, a stacked structure on a corner site in Ranelagh, and Dix House, in Howth, were exhibited by the RIAI. But it was Grafton’s Two Mews Houses on Clyde Lane that garnered the most honours, winning AAI and RIAI awards in 1993 and gaining a special commendation at The Sunday Times Irish Building of The Year award ceremony in 1994.”

Looking from the south. (Photo from Apple Maps.)