Sir Nicholas Grimshaw

Sir Nicholas Grimshaw founded Grimshaw in 1980. This architecture practice is renowned for it’s innovation and a rigourous approach to detailing; the company’s work is underpinned by the principles of humane, enduring and sustainable design. With offices in New York, London, Melbourne, Sydney and Doha, Grimshaw are currently working on a huge variety of projects, from the Wimbledon master plan in London, to Queens Museum in New York (built on the site of an ice rink), to huge landscape projects in China, to the Miami Science Museum and St Petersburg airport.

Southern cross station in Melbourne, Australia

Southern cross station in Melbourne, Australia

What is your personal style?

When I was studying at the AA in London in the 1960s, my tutor Peter Cook introduced me to Tony Gross, who had just opened Cutler and Gross on Holloway Road (just opposite the Polytechnic of North London) and I have worn their handmade glasses ever since. I like colour and natural fabrics and my preference is for Equipment silk shirts, in a huge range of colours. When I was President of the Royal Academy (from 2004-2011) I also discovered some wonderful tailors on Savile Row, just around the corner from the Academy, and I invested in some handmade suits.

Describe your house?

I have lived in the same house in North London for nearly forty years. My interest in art was sparked by my wife Lavinia, and my father-in-law, the New York Times art critic John Russell – we try to buy prints, paintings and photographs whenever we can, usually from British artists such as Richard Hamilton, Howard Hodgkin and Humphrey Ocean. I also have some wonderful photographs by my sister Tessa Traeger and a large collection of art catalogues and architecture books.

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Pulkovo Airport at night

Do you favour a style? What’s your trademark?

We do engineering-based architecture. If you saw the recent programme – The Brits who Built the Modern World on BBC4 – all of the architects featured are high-tech architects (Foster, Rogers, Grimshaw, Hopkins & Farrell)  but none of us like the expression. Our work is based on carefully thought out details, often using new or undiscovered materials, in new ways – I particularly like using technology to make a building react to its environment, for instance a skin of a building that can open like petals in the sunshine.

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What was your big break?

The Eurostar Terminal at Waterloo was a really big break for us, it was a hard-fought competition and was originally described as “possibly the most exciting competition in Europe today” (this was in 1988). It was probably six times bigger than anything we’d done before and used every pair of hands in the office for 24 hours a day for several months, to get the building designed in time, so that the first channel tunnel trains had a station to arrive at!

What was your biggest challenge?

Following Waterloo, the Eden Project was the biggest of our four Millennium projects and has been a very popular building ever since – it’s just received it’s ten millionth visitor! One of the biggest challenges at Eden was the fact that it was in a 100m deep china clay mine, all of which had to be graded by earth-moving machines into terraces, before being planted with tropical and Mediterranean landscape inside, and temperate landscaping outside. Many new projects involving ecological issues are in the pipeline for the future

Eden Project

Eden Project

What’s your favourite city?

It has to be Venice – I got to know the city really well, when I was invited to be part of the Venice Architecture Biennale in 1991. There’s a fantastic harmony between the buildings and the environment but of course there are many big environmental problems to solve. I love boats and exploring the city by Vaporetto and I also like to go the boat yards, to see how the water taxis and gondolas are built.

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Pulkovo Airport

What’s your favourite design shop or gallery?

I buy prints from the Royal Academy summer exhibition and when I travel to European cities such as Milan and Paris, I have a weakness for certain artisan tool shops, while closer to home I love ship chandleries.

What’s your favourite piece of furniture?

I like the Sinbad horse blanket sofas by Magistretti, covered in a choice of brightly coloured wool horse blankets and the Isamu Noguchi coffee table (from Aram design). I tend to design my own dining tables but would always choose Eames curved plywood dining chairs.

What’s your favourite building?

I really like the Shard because of it’s mixed use: it has parking, shopping, restaurants, hotel, apartments and offices and public viewing – all tall buildings should have this mix. From my study at home and my office in Clerkenwell, I’ve watched it being built and we’re now designing London Bridge station at the bottom of it. I think it’s the most striking tower block in London.

London Skyline

London Skyline

What makes a project successful?

Millions of people a year use our buildings (the number is so big because many of the buildings are transport buildings, such as railways and airports) and the real judgement on whether they are successful or not is by the people who use them. If they are wear well, are efficient and easily cleaned, you are only dealing with the basic requirements. Big public buildings need something poetic about them, so that somebody rushing through them can get some small element of joy on everyday of their working life.

What would be your advice to someone who is looking to refurbish his house and is looking for an architect?

Millions of people a year use our buildings (the number is so big because many of the buildings are transport buildings, such as railways and airports) and the real judgement on whether they are successful or not is by the people who use them. If thhey wear well, are efficient and easily cleaned, you are only dealing with the basic requirements. Big public buildings need something poetic about them, so that somebody rushing through them can get some small element of joy on everyday of their working life.

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