Northern Ireland

Lyric theatre, Belfast: Married architects get top award

The great hall in the Lyric theatre in Belfast Image copyright DENNIS GILBERT
Image caption The great hall in the new-look Lyric theatre in Belfast

A couple who helped design the new Lyric theatre in Belfast have been awarded a prestigious architectural award.

Husband and wife, Sheila O'Donnell and John Tuomey, received the Royal Gold Medal for their lifetime of work in the industry.

They said: "We're delighted to have been chosen for this unexpected honour".

The Royal Institute of British Architects also commended their work.

Image copyright O’Donnell and Tuomey
Image copyright D Gilbert
Image caption The Lyric Theatre in Belfast is one of their best-known works

The couple said in a statement: "We're humbled to find ourselves in such a company of heroes, architects whose work we have studied and from whose example we continue to learn.

"We believe in the social value and the poetic purpose of architecture and the gold medal encourages us to prevail in this most privileged and complicated career."

Dublin-based O'Donnell and Tuomey are best known for the Photographers' Gallery in Soho and the Saw Swee Hock Student Centre at the London School of Economics, which was shortlisted for the Stirling Prize.

Image copyright ALex Bland
Image caption Their work on the Saw Swee Hock Student Centre was shortlisted for the Stirling Prize in 2014

The married couple first made their name contributing to the regeneration of Dublin's Temple Bar area, working on the Irish Film Institute.

Their early work also included schools, public housing and community buildings.

Royal Institute of British Architects (Riba) president Stephen Hodder said the duo's work was "always inventive" and "striking yet so well considered" and "beautifully crafted".

He said: "Sheila and John are at the vanguard of contemporary Irish architecture and I am delighted they are to receive this lifetime honour."

Image copyright D Gilbert
Image caption The architects designed An Gaeláras Irish Language Arts and Cultural Centre in Londonderry
Image copyright D Gilbert
Image caption The design was nominated for the Stirling Prize in 2011
Image copyright PA
Image caption John Tuomey and Sheila O'Donnell were honoured by the Royal Institute of British Architects

Past recipients of the Royal Gold Medal have included Sir Norman Foster, who designed the Gherkin in London and Sir George Gilbert Scott, famous for the Midland Grand Hotel at St Pancras Station and the Albert Memorial in London.

The couple will be presented with the 2015 Royal Gold Medal at a ceremony in London in February next year.

The Lyric has won a string of architectural prizes since it was rebuilt in 2011, including Best Building at the Royal Society of Ulster Architects'.

Lyric chairman Mark Carruthers said: "We always knew that the task of designing the new Lyric would be a stiff challenge, given the complexity of the site and the intricate, technical demands of a theatre building, but Sheila and John's ideas exceeded our wildest expectations. "

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