A Dublin Dialogue: Key Words
Sheila O’Donnell and John Tuomey are partners in work and in life. They describe their career together under the motto ‘in conversation’ which, while being slightly vague, can conveniently summarize their life in common and their working method, as well as one of the fundamental features of their works: the dialogue between architecture and its environment. They joyfully explain their thoughts on the profession, context, technique and crafts in a straightforward manner that is grounded in reality – a quality that can also describe their works. In 2015 they were the recipients of the RIBA Royal Gold Medal, an award that acknowledges a career built out of modest and refined buildings, combined with activities such as publications, exhibitions and teaching, that have contributed to forge an identity for Irish contemporary architecture.
LFS: Receiving the Royal Gold Medal may have given you the chance to look back at your career. What values or qualities tie together your body of work?
John Tuomey (JT): We have realized that in our works, even in the small or private ones, there’s always a feeling of extension out into the public realm. Even if it is only the doorstep of the house, we recognize that somehow there’s a public dimension to every aspect of architecture. And, maybe, it is possible that not every architect thinks like that. But we think the public dimension is basic, and it probably ties our work together, this feeling of contribution to the civic world.
Sheila O’Donnell (SO): I think it’s probably an aspect of having a strong sense of place and of always trying to understand the context in which something is, and to make our buildings like they belong within that context, even if they have a kind of unexpected belonging. We don’t try to make them the same as the context but to make them respond to certain aspects in our analysis of the qualities of a place. So I think the extension beyond, from inside to outside, is a part of that, because the life of a building is so complex that it is unlikely to just stop at the door or the window. There is a sort of extension of architecture from its physical plot into the world beyond, and the world beyond extends into it as well. So I would say those two things – the place and the relationship of building and the public realm – are probably big aspects of our work...[+]