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Irish architect Shane de Blacam wins the 2023 Royal Academy Architecture Prize

Dublin-based architect Shane de Blacam is recognised for his dedication to creating community-centric spaces, and the pleasure he takes in joinery and detail.

by STIRworldPublished on : Jul 05, 2023

The Royal Academy Architecture Prize was inaugurated in 2018 to further The Royal Academy of Arts' cause of garnering a wider appreciation and understanding of architecture’s vital relationship to culture and society, by recognising impactful and sensitive designs. Dublin-based architect Shane de Blacam has been selected as the winner of the fifth edition of this prestigious annual prize which was previously given to French architect Renée Gailhoustet in 2022, Spanish installation artist Cristina Iglesias in 2020, American architect duo Elizabeth Diller and Ricardo Scofidio in 2019, and Japanese architect Itsuko Hasegawa in the inaugural year. The honour recognises de Blacam’s commitment to creating communal spaces for learning, exchange, and contemplation, and his stellar contribution to architecture. Vicky Richardson, Head of Architecture and Heinz Curator at the Royal Academy said, “The RA Architecture Prize is a chance to discover the work of an architect whose dedication to practice has been sustained and inspirational. Shane de Blacam’s buildings show us the power of architecture to bring people together in spaces that are generous and beautiful."

Library, Cork Institute of Technology | The Royal Academy Architecture Prize | deBlacam and Meagher| STIRworld
Library, Cork Institute of Technology Image: Peter Cook

Shane de Blacam did his bachelor’s in architecture from the University College Dublin, and master’s from the University of Pennsylvania in the United States. He alternated between the two regions by first working in London with British firm Chamberlain, Powell and Bon, and then with Louis I. Kahn in Philadelphia. In 1972, he returned to Ireland as a ‘first-year master’ at the School of Architecture, University College Dublin. De Blacam resolved designs with subtlety and elegance while focusing on producing good quality works through inexpensive means and utmost propriety.

Munster Technological University Cork | The Royal Academy Architecture Prize | deBlacam and Meagher| STIRworld
Munster Technological University Cork Image: Peter Cook

In 1976, de Blacam established his architectural practice de Blacam and Meagher in partnership with John Meagher. The practice creates straightforward structures that utilise local materials such as oak, white limestone, black fossil limestone, granite, slate, stainless steel, glass, naturally pigmented paints, gold leaf, wool, linen, and silk, carefully chosen to lend a sense of quality, durability, and significance to their projects. Furthermore, the firm also possesses expertise in restoration and conservation work, interior and furniture design, and exhibition design. Their approach focuses on creating simple spaces for people to come together and interact. Some such examples are the meticulously restored Abbeyleix Library in Laois, the graceful Samuel Beckett Theatre at the Trinity College in Dublin, and library of the Cork Institute of Technology. “de Blacam’s buildings demonstrate a pleasure in simple local materials, combining loadbearing masonry and joinery. In both new buildings and sensitive historic restorations, de Blacam’s practice reminds us of the power of craftsmanship to create spaces where we can come together for stillness and reflection. His work has been a powerful influence on contemporary Irish architecture, and he is an inspirational figure for those he has taught and worked with,” explained the jury on why his practice merits the acclaim.

  • Parish Church Firhouse, Dublin| The Royal Academy Architecture Prize | deBlacam and Meagher| STIRworld
    Parish Church Firhouse, Dublin Image: Peter Cook
  • Office building St Stephens Green, Dublin | The Royal Academy Architecture Prize | deBlacam and Meagher| STIRworld
    Office building St Stephens Green, Dublin Image: Peter Cook

The award’s esteemed jury which includes South African architect Sumayya Vally and Iranian born British architect Farshid Moussavi has also chosen the contenders for the Royal Academy Dorfman Award, an accolade that honours new ideas and practices that highlight the future potential of architecture while taking into consideration geographical and socio-political contexts. Awarded last year to Indian architect Vinu Daniel of studio Wallmakers, the 2023 recipient will be announced on November 2, 2023, as part of the Royal Academy Architecture Awards Week, and will receive a prize of £10,000. There are four finalists, each representing a distinct approach to the pressing challenges of our time. H Arquitectes from Barcelona, Spain, have been selected for an oeuvre that reflects exchanges and transformation of environments and histories. Similarly, studio COMUNAL of Mexico has been recognised for their habitats promoting cooperation, participation, and abolition of hegemonic practices. Mexico City-based architect Gabriela Carrillo is another finalist, shortlisted for her dedication to developing high-quality public buildings that are extremely context-sensitive. Tropical Space of Vietnam has also made the cut, with their buildings that 'breathe' by employing sustainable materials, passive energy systems, and enforcing connections between occupants, architecture, and environment.

  • DataAE ICTA-ICP Research Centre by H Arquitectes| The Royal Academy Architecture Prize | H Arquitectes | STIRworld
    DataAE ICTA-ICP Research Centre by H Arquitectes Image: Adrià Goula
  • Casa Piedra by Gabriela Carrillo | The Royal Academy Architecture Prize | Taller Gabriela Carrillo| STIRworld
    Casa Piedra by Gabriela Carrillo Image: Rafael Gamo
  • Premier Office by Tropical Space| Premier Office| Tropical Space| STIRworld
    Premier Office by Tropical Space Image: Courtesy of Tropical Space

The architecture award is chaired by Níall McLaughlin—Royal Academician, founder of British studio Níall McLaughlin Architects, and Professor of Architectural Practice at the Bartlett School of Architecture. The official induction of Shane de Blacam as the 2023 recipient of the Royal Academy Architecture Prize will coincide with the announcement for the Royal Academy Dorfman Award winner during the Royal Academy Architecture Awards Week in London. A public celebration, the event comprising multiple events and private jury sessions will take place from October 30 to November 03, 2023.

(Text by Aatmi Chitalia, Intern at STIR)

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