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  Cornell University

Cornell in Rome

College of Architecture, Art and Planning

Everything Accumulates

Photo courtesy of Chris Andras
Photo courtesy of Chris Andras

O’Donnell + Tuomey
Dublin, Ireland

Sheila O’Donnell and John Tuomey established their firm O’Donnell + Tuomey over 25 years ago since meeting at University College Dublin. Since then have developed a range of diverse architectural projects, taught at multiple design programs, and received international recognition for their work. Their lecture at Cornell in Rome in late March, titled Everything Accumulates, was essentially about the immense accumulation of ideas, projects and experiences over the course of their prolific collaboration.

During their lectures, I was immediately struck by how in sync the pair was at performing their dual roles in the presentation. O’Donnell and Tuomey alternated as speakers for each project, yet there was a rhythm of continuity that threaded the entire presentation together. I suppose after a quarter century of working so closely together, one strikes a balance in tackling different situations: designing, coordinating, presenting, etc.

The second thing I observed throughout the lecture–returning more to the topic of architecture–is the strong focus on materiality and site-specificity within each architectural project. In multiple designs, including the London School of Economics Student Center (London, 2014) and the Lyric Theater (Northern Ireland, 2011), the contemporary use of brick and strategic use of daylighting (glazing) were significant elements of the design. They discussed how their practice was not driven by a strong architectural vision, but rather shaped by the surrounding historical and urban context. Their lecture was a lesson towards setting aside the architect’s ego for a mindful, contextual approach towards design.

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