Sam Fox School Recognition Ceremony Speakers

Posted by Liam Otten May 11, 2020


View the full video of the 2020 Sam Fox School Recognition Ceremony, including the alumni and keynote speeches>>

The Sam Fox School of Design & Visual Arts at Washington University in St. Louis is pleased to announce that architects Yvonne Farrell and Shelley McNamara, co-founders of Grafton Architects in Dublin and winners of the 2020 Pritzker Prize, will serve as keynote speakers for the school’s spring Graduate Recognition Ceremony.

The virtual ceremony—which will be broadcast at 7 p.m. Thursday, May 14—will celebrate graduating students from the Sam Fox School’s undergraduate College of Art and College of Architecture, and from the Graduate School of Art and Graduate School of Architecture and Urban Design.

Susan Barrett (BA and BFA ’89; MArch ’94), president and founder of St. Louis’ Barrett Barrera Projects, will deliver the alumni address.

“In these extraordinary times of uncertainty, it’s important that we continue finding ways to come together as a school,” says Carmon Colangelo, Ralph J. Nagel Dean of the Sam Fox School and the E. Desmond Lee Professor for Collaboration in the Arts.

“I am incredibly excited about our speakers and cannot imagine a more inspiring lineup,” Colangelo continued. “Susan Barrett’s cutting-edge galleries and project spaces have had a major impact on the St. Louis art scene, while Yvonne Farrell and Shelley McNamara have long considered teaching to be a vital component of their larger architectural practice, in addition to producing amazing beautiful projects.”

“All three truly speak to the sustaining values of the Sam Fox School.”

An unparalleled practice

Town House building, Kingston University London, by Grafton Architects. Photo: © Ed Reeve.

Founded in 1978, Grafton Architects has completed dozens of educational, civic and residential commissions across Ireland, the United Kingdom and Europe. Recent projects range from the Town House building for Kingston University London and the Toulouse School of Economics to the Institut Mines-Télécom building for the Université Paris-Saclay.

“Grafton Architects is one of the most important and celebrated architectural practices of the 21st century, and one of the few internationally recognized practices led by female partners,” said Robert McCarter, the Ruth and Norman Moore Professor of Architecture and author of a 2018 monograph about the firm.

“They are also unparalleled among practices in having been recognized and honored in three different and parallel pursuits,” McCarter continues. “In addition to the 2020 Pritzker Prize, the very highest honor in international architecture, they were selected as curators of the 2018 Venice Biennale of Architecture, in which they challenged the global architectural profession to recognize that ‘the earth is your client;’ and they have demonstrated their dedication to the next generations through more than 40 years of continuous teaching.”

Heather Woofter, the Sam and Marilyn Fox Professor and director of the College of Architecture and Graduate School of Architecture & Urban Design, says that Farrell and McNamara are notable for the care and attention they bring to questions of site, context and sustainability.

“Grafton Architects has a distinctive design ethos and voice, but their projects are also generous neighbors,” Woofter says. “There’s a real attentiveness to urban context and an admirable sensitivity to nature, geography and climate. There’s also a sophisticated awareness of how the intermingling of public and private space can shape our understanding of belonging, access and even citizenship.”

Woofter adds: “For young architects and designers, Yvonne and Shelley are both thoughtful guides to critical contemporary issues and generous exemplars of how to build a professional practice.”

Spirit and accomplishment

A Queen Within. Photo: Roman Alokhin.

With a background in painting, architecture, publishing and fashion, Barrett is known for genre-defying projects that aim to create community and dialogue around important contemporary issues.

“Susan is a visionary, a problem-solver and a fearless champion for the arts,” says Amy Hauft the Jane Reuter Hitzeman and Herbert F. Hitzeman, Jr. Professor of Art and director of the College of Art and Graduate School of Art.

Hauft notes that, as a graduate of both the art and architecture programs, Barrett is ideally situated to address the Sam Fox School’s combined graduation ceremony—just as her company, Barrett Barrera Projects, serves as a nexus for experimental artists and designers.

“There’s a playfulness to Susan’s work and the projects she supports,” Hauft says, “but there’s also deep intentionality. She highlights the overlapping in-between of culture, the hard-to-categorize. Her exhibitions don’t feel like traditional gallery endeavors. They feel like a whole new ecosystem, at once culturally resonant and deeply personal—idiosyncratic in all the best ways.

“Susan keeps pushing the culture forward,” Hauft concludes, “and thank goodness, pushing us with her.”

Washington University’s 159th Commencement, which had been scheduled for Friday, May 15, was cancelled due to the continuing COVID-19 pandemic. The university has appointed a committee to determine when and how an in-person Commencement for the class of 2020 can take place in a safe and responsible way.

The Sam Fox School’s May 14 Graduate Recognition Ceremony is the culmination of several virtual events, including an undergraduate celebration on May 11, a graduate celebration May 12, and awards ceremonies May 13. For more information, visit

About Yvonne Farrell and Shelley McNamara

Toulouse School of Economics, by Grafton Architects. Photo: ©Densi Gilbert.

Yvonne Farrell and Shelley McNamara graduated from University College Dublin (UCD) in 1974 and co-founded Grafton Architects in 1978. They are Fellows of the Royal Institute of the Architects of Ireland, International Honorary Fellows of the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA), and elected members of Aosdána, the Irish arts association.

The pair taught at UCD’s School of Architecture from 1976 to 2002, and were appointed adjunct professors in 2015. They also served as visiting professors at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne; held the Kenzo Tange Chair at Harvard University’s Graduate School of Design; and held the Louis Kahn chair at Yale University. Currently, they are professors at Switzerland’s Accademia di Architettura, Mendrisio.

Grafton Architects has participated in numerous exhibitions including the Sensing Spaces Exhibition in 2014 in the Royal Academy in London; a Pavilion for the 2014 Tercentenary of the City of Barcelona; and ‘The Ogham Wall’ installation in 2015 in the Victoria & Albert Museum, London. In 2018, Farrell and McNamara served as curators for “Freespace,” the 16th International Venice Architecture Biennale—the title of which was drawn from their “Freespace Manifesto.”

Major honors, in addition to the Pritzker, include the 2020 RIBA Royal Gold Medal and, in 2016, the inaugural RIBA International Prize, for the firm’s design of the Universidad de Ingeniería y Tecnología in Lima, Peru.

Current projects—all won by international competition—include The Marshall Institute building for the London School of Economics; the Dublin City Library at Parnell Square (with Shaffrey Architects); and the Electricity Supply Board headquarters in Dublin (with OMP architects).

About Susan Barrett

Ann Ry & Lee McQueen: Rendez-vous. Photo: Virginia Harold.

Susan Barrett is founder and president of Barrett Barrera Projects, which produces exhibitions and projects, as well as its subsidiary spaces projects+gallery, projects+exhibitions and Guest House. She previously conceptualized and developed the Saint Louis Chess Club, and served as founding executive director of the World Chess Hall of Fame, where she created the innovative exhibit A Queen Within, which is still touring internationally.

Barrett holds a Master of Architecture, a Bachelor of Arts in Comparative Arts and French, and a Bachelor of Fine Art, all from Washington University. A longtime advocate for incorporating the arts into public transportation, city planning and social change, she is a board member at the Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis, Laumeier Sculpture Park, Southside Day Nursery, Arts in Transit, Sheldon Art Galleries, Saint Louis Chess Club, Circus Flora, Mid-America Arts Alliance and Saint Louis Fashion Fund.

In 2019, Barrett won the St. Louis Women’s Visionary Award. She previously was named a “Tastemaker” by St. Louis Magazine’s “Power List.”