Black and white portrait of Irish architect Sheila ODonnell

Sheila O’Donnell has been named Architect of the Year at the 2019 Women in Architecture awards held by publications, The Architectural Review and the Architects’ Journal. 

O’Donnell is one-half of Dublin practice, O’Donnell+Tuomey, which was first founded in 1988, and has since received over 120 national and international awards for its completed buildings. Together with co-founder John Tuomey, the 2015 RIBA Royal Gold Medalist has exhibited six times at the Venice Biennale. 

The Women in Architecture competition jury recognised O’Donnell’s work on the Central European University (CEU) in Budapest, Hungary at their annual awards. The project, which involves the design of a new 35,000sqm campus, has transformed five adjoining but previously disconnected buildings on a World Heritage site in central Budapest, as well as seen the construction of two new buildings. 

Exterior view of Central European University in Budapest

According to the design team, the process involved the “selective subtraction and addition to transform the campus into a metaphorical crossroads”. Almost surgically, the architects linked existing and new facilities with a series of connected courtyards - some existing, some new. 

These courtyards, a circulation system that doubles as social space for students, visitors and university staff, feature roofs that ensure a tempered environment from extreme weather in the summer and the winter.   

Exterior facade of Central European University in Budapest

All materials for the CEU project were selected for their endurance and natural material qualities. Local limestone is employed on the new facades, while stone, timber, concrete and steel form the fabric of internal public spaces. 

To reduce heat gain, landscaped gardens are featured on the roofs of the new and existing buildings. These “hanging gardens of Budapest” not only create a space to gather and relax in the dense downtown site; they also help to filter the air and shade the glass in summer. 

“The well-tempered environment of the covered courtyards, combined with a practical approach to natural ventilation, ensure a low-carbon economical strategy for long-term energy conservation,” O’Donnell+Tuomey explain.

Aerial view of Central European University in Budapest

“O’Donnell’s passion for the buildings of the Central European University was rewarded with an exceptionally high-quality building which she evidently fought hard for,” the 2019 Women in Architecture Awards jury commended. 

“She is a role model for young women in architecture. Sheila O’Donnell did not have to break the glass ceiling – her and John Tuomey created a new reality.”

Photography by Tamás Bujnovszky, via O’Donnell+Tuomey.