Visionary Irish architect, Kevin Roche awarded University College Dublin (UCD) Ulysses Medal

Kevin Roche in conversation with Shane O’Toole

Kevin Roche, the Irish architect behind such iconic buildings as the skyscrapers of the UN Plaza and California’s Oakland Museum, has been awarded the UCD Ulysses Medal.

In a special ceremony to mark the end of a year-long celebration of the centenary of the UCD School of Architecture, Kevin Roche was presented with the award by UCD President, Dr Hugh Brady. Visionary Irish architect, Kevin Roche awarded UCD Ulysses Medal

After receiving the award, Roche took part in a live interview with Shane O’Toole in front of invited guests and students.

Born in Dublin on 22 June, 1922, the same month that marked the beginning of the Irish Civil War, Kevin Roche studied in the then small school of architecture at University College Dublin. After his studies at UCD he served his apprenticeship with Michael Scott, then Ireland’s leading architect.

After a time in London, he went to the US to pursue a post-graduate degree at Illinois Institute of Technology, under the guidance of the famous German architect Ludwig Mies Van Der Rohe. Mies’ motto ‘less is more’ shaped Roche’s own vision as an architect.

“Kevin’s architecture is rooted firmly in his interest in people, in the reality of people’s experience, what Joyce called epiphanies — how people behave and how apparently insignificant details can affect their lives,” said Professor Cathal O’Neill, the former Head of Architecture at UCD, who gave the citation at the UCD award ceremony.

“Kevin often enacts the role of his clients or users of his building to better understand their experiences and how that can be enhanced through his work. His response to sites, especially urban is often masterful making decisive moves which repair or improve the existing special structure.”

“Kevin has been a great inspiration to our graduates and many have followed him to the US. There they have found as I did that the mention of his name or this university associated with his name will often result in a positive response towards us, which improves our career prospects or friendships. This phenomenon extends beyond architecture, which is of benefit to UCD and Ireland,” he added.

Speaking to Irish America Magazine in May 2012 after being inducted into the Irish America Hall of Fame, Kevin Roche had some words of advice for aspiring young architects:

“It comes down to a lot of luck, but one thing you’ve got to do is work, work, work. All my life I worked 6 or 7 days a week, 8 or 10 hours a day. You have to do that and keep at it.”

Previous recipients of the UCD Ulysses Medal include: Former US President, Bill Clinton; Nobel Prize-winning Economist, Professor James Heckman; Irish playwright, Brian Friel; Nobel Prize-winning Poet, Seamus Heaney; US Philosopher, Professor Hilary Putnam; and Stanford University’s 10th President, John L Hennessey; and Philosopher and Social Theorist, Professor Jürgen Habermas.