Sir Nicholas Grimshaw, CBE, PPRA, is an English architect best known for modernist structures such as London’s Waterloo International train station and Cornwall’s Eden Project. From 2004 to 2011, he served as President of the Royal Academy. He served as chairman of Grimshaw Architects (previously Nicholas Grimshaw & Partners) from its inception until 2019, when Andrew Whalley took over. He was awarded the RIBA Gold Medal. 

Early Life

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Grimshaw was born on October 9, 1939, in Hove, East Sussex. He got a passion in engineering and painting from his father, who was an engineer, and his mother, who was a portrait painter. One of his great-grandfathers was a civil engineer who built dams in Egypt, and another was a surgeon who pushed for the construction of Dublin’s drainage and sanitary system after discovering a relationship between waterborne infections and streams that flowed into the Liffey River. His father died when he was two and a half years old, and he spent his childhood in Guildford with his mother, grandmother, who was also a portrait painter, and two sisters. He showed an early interest in construction, with Meccano, tree homes, and boats among his youth hobbies.

Early Career

He attended Wellington College and departed when he was 17 years old. He attended the Edinburgh College of Art from 1959 to 1962 before obtaining a scholarship to the Architectural Association School of Architecture in London, where he received additional scholarships to travel to Sweden in 1963 and the United States in 1964. He received an honours certificate from the AA in 1965 and joined the Royal Institute of British Architects two years later, in 1967, after forming a collaboration with Terry Farrell. In the 1960s and 1970s, he established his own business and received several architectural prizes for his work. These structures were praised for their creative construction and detailing.

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Works

He spent 15 years with Farrell before founding his own business, Nicholas Grimshaw & Partners, in 1980. Nicholas Grimshaw & Partners Ltd received widespread praise as well as 97 accolades for Architecture and Civic Design. The firm is currently known as GRIMSHAW and has offices in London, New York, and Melbourne. For his design of the Financial Times print works in East London, he received a national prize from the Royal Institute of British Architects in 1989. After building Britain’s pavilion for the 1992 Seville Expo, he was made a CBE in 1993, and his Waterloo train terminus was named ‘Building of the Year’ the following year.

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Other notable projects include the RAC Regional Headquarters in Bristol, the Western Morning News Headquarters and Printing Press in Plymouth, and Sainsbury’s urban quarter in Camden, the Financial Times Printworks, and the Lloyds TSB Bank Headquarters in Gresham Street, as well as the UCL Cancer Institute and the redevelopment of Paddington Station in London. In the United Kingdom, recent projects include the construction of the ExCel convention centre in London’s Docklands and a number of academic buildings. He was also elected vice-chairman of the Architectural Association, a member of the Royal Academy, and a member of the American Institute of Architects in the same year (1994). 

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The firm is well-known in Europe, having completed six projects in Germany, including the Ludwig Erhard House, which once housed the Berlin Stock Exchange, the IGUS plastics headquarters, VITRA furniture, MABEG sign systems, Pfeiffer Vacuum Systems, and the Frankfurt Trade Fair Hall. Other projects completed by the firm in Europe include the Ijburg Bridges and Bijlmer Station in Amsterdam (winner of the Building Magazine Building of the Year 2008), the British Pavilion at Expo ’92 and the Caixa Galicia Art Foundation in Spain, as well as the new Airside and Landside centres for Zurich Airport. The E3 Fashion and Design Events Building in Milan, which will be part of Cesar Pelli’s concept in Garibaldi Republica, is a recent project in Europe.

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GRIMSHAW has also completed the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center in St Louis, Missouri, and the National Museum in Monterrey, Mexico, both in the United States. Other projects include Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute’s Experimental Media and Performing Arts Center in Troy, New York State, and the Fulton Street Transport Center near Ground Zero, the Queens Museum of Art in New York, the Earthpark in Iowa, and, more recently, the Miami Science Museum and Pulkovo Airport in St Petersburg.

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The team executed the rehabilitation of Southern Cross Station in Melbourne, Australia, which won the RIBA Lubetkin Prize in 2007.

Talks

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Sir Nicholas Grimshaw has given talks in 23 countries, including the United States. His ‘Embedded Intelligence’ lecture was recently given in New York, Mexico City, and Monterrey. He has previously presented the National Building Museum’s ‘Going Green – Architecture, the Environment, and Eden’ speech and the Louis Kahn Memorial Lecture at Penn University in Philadelphia. In England, France, Germany, and Spain, he is a licensed architect. He is also registered to practise architecture in the state of New York after passing an examination in 2002.

Honours

Pulkovo Airport in St. Petersburg by Nicholas Grimshaw_©archinect.com/news/bustler/6839/nicholas-grimshaw-whose-firm-was-a-pioneer-of-high-tech-architecture-to-be-awarded-riba-s-2019-royal-gold-medal

In 1994, Sir Nicholas was made a Royal Academician and an Honorary Fellow of the AIA in the same year. Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II knighted him in 2002, and he was chosen President of the Royal Academy of Arts in December 2004. He was President from 2001 until 2011. He was appointed Visiting Professor at the University of the Arts London in 2008. As Chairman of the Board, Sir Nicholas Grimshaw continues to actively lead his own practice.

A trilogy of publications about GRIMSHAW’s work has been published by Phaidon in London: Architecture, Industry, and Innovation covers the years 1965-1988; Structure, Space, and Skin covers the years 1988-1993; and Equilibrium covers the work of the Practice from 1993 to 2000.

Author

Rajita Jain is an architect by profession who engages with the dynamics of urban spaces and the people. She aims at developing ways of amalgamating cultural and traditional beliefs with modern day technology to give the urban fabric a vernacular sensitivity.

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