2023 RA Architecture Prize to Shane de Blacam

John Hill
4. July 2023
Munster Technological University (formerly Cork Institute of Technology), Cork, Tourism and Hospitality Building (Photo: Peter Cook)

Since the Royal Academy of Arts launched the RA Architecture Prize in 2018, it has been given to practitioners ranging from the familiar (Itsuko Hasegawa in the inaugural year) and the famous (Elizabeth Diller and Ricardo Scofidio in 2019) to the unexpected (artist Cristina Iglesias in 2020) and the unheralded (Renée Gailhoustet last year). (The annual prize was not awarded in 2021 due to the pandemic.) It's refreshing to find an award that does not trot out the same names given out by other awards, with each announcement offering an element of surprise. Such is the case with Dublin-based architect Shane de Blacam, who is hardly a familiar name outside of Ireland or the UK. This award should change that.

Following degrees in architecture at University College Dublin (1968) and the University of Pennsylvania (1970), de Blacam worked in theLondon office of Chamberlin, Powell and Bon, the firm of the Barbican Centre. De Blacam returned to Pennsylvania and the Philadelphia office of Louis I. Kahn for two years, working on the Yale Center for British Art. Following these work experience, de Blacam opened his own practice, partnering with John Meagher to form de Blacam and Meagher. The pair worked together in their architectural partnership until Meagher's death in early 2021.

According to the announcement of this year's prize from the RA, “de Blacam’s buildings are characterized by their simplicity and their celebration of local materials. Throughout his career, he has been concerned with creating spaces for people to come together.” These spaces, as evidenced by the photographs presented here, are strongly focused on institutional projects, among them libraries, universities, churches, and theaters. The influence of Kahn is clearly felt in the rhythmic forms, structural logic, and natural materials of de Blacam's buildings, though they are hardly imitative.

The 2023 RA Architecture Awards jury is chaired by Níall McLaughlin and includes Roksanda Ilinčić, Farshid Moussavi, Vicky Richardson, Eva Rothschild, and Sumayya Vally. According to a statement from the RA, the jury was impressed by de Blacam's “commitment to creating communal spaces” as well as “his remarkable craftsmanship and the pleasure he takes in joinery and detail.”

Parish Church Firhouse, Dublin (Photo: Peter Cook)
"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."

2023 RA Architecture Awards jury

Munster Technological University (formerly Cork Institute of Technology), Cork, Library (Photo: Peter Cook)

The RA Architecture Prize is supported by the Dorfman Foundation, which also gives its name to the RA Dorfman Award, “which champions global talent that represents the future of architecture,” and which the foundation also supports. Upon de Blacam's announcement, the RA also revealed the four finalists for the 2023 RA Dorfman Award:

  • COMUNAL (Mexico)
  • Taller Gabriela Carrillo (Mexico)
  • H Arquitectes (Spain)
  • Tropical Space (Vietnam)

The winner of the RA Dorfman Award will be announced at the end of the Royal Academy Architecture Awards Week, which will start with a talk by Shane de Blacam on October 31 and culminate in an awards ceremony on November 2, 2023.

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