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Last edited 28 Feb 2021
Sir Nicholas Grimshaw has played a leading role in British architecture for more than half a century. Along with Norman Foster and Richard Rogers, he is regarded as one of the main advocates of the high-tech movement which began in the 1970s. This is manifested in some of his best-known works which include the International Terminal at London’s Waterloo station, the Eden Project, and Sainsbury’s supermarket in Camden Town, London.
Grimshaw's studio – called simply ‘Grimshaw’ - was founded by Sir Nicholas in 1980. The practice became a partnership in 2007 and has offices globally in London, Los Angeles, New York, Paris, Dubai, Melbourne, and Sydney, employing more than 650 staff.
Nicholas Grimshaw was born in 1939 and raised in Guildford, England. The son of an airplane engineer who died when the young Nicholas was only two, he was raised by his mother and grandmother, both of whom were artists. Early interests in design and construction became apparent through his love of making models from Meccano and building tree houses. He was also fascinated by boats.
At 17, he dropped out of college, but a visit to Scotland inspired him to enrol at the Edinburgh College of Art. It was while there that he decided to study architecture and, having graduated a few years later, went on to London to study for his diploma at the Architectural Association – which he gained with honours in 1965.
Soon after graduating, Grimshaw started a practice with fellow architect Terry Farrell and the pair shared an office with the radical, experimental architecture movement Archigram, led by Peter Cook – Grimshaw’s former tutor.
Farrell Grimshaw – as the practice came to be known – produced numerous iconic buildings, such as the Park Road Apartments, London (1968), and the RIBA award-winning Herman Miller Factory, Bath (1976), both of which display the modularity and reconfigurability that was to underscore much of Grimshaw’s later work. Both buildings were eventually given Grade II-listing.
These early projects represented Grimshaw’s passion not only for architecture but also for engineering and were noted for their innovative approach to construction and detailing – values that are evident in Grimshaw’s contemporary work. Indeed, Grimshaw has long advocated the adaptability of architecture, a characteristic which he believes should be assessed when a building is submitted for planning permission.
Farrell and Grimshaw split acrimoniously in 1980, the former abandoning altogether any allegiance to high-tech and instead adopting post-modernism with great enthusiasm. Grimshaw however, continued to produce buildings to confirm his allegiance to high-tech functionalism. This included the Financial Times print works (1988) which elevated the printing process to theatre and framed it behind a wall of glass; and Sainsbury’s supermarket, which can be seen as a throwback to his experiments with Meccano.
- Sainsbury’s supermarket, London (1988).
- British pavilion at the Seville Expo (1992).
- International Terminal at Waterloo Station, London (1993).
- Igus HQ and factory, Cologne, Germany (2000).
- Eden Project, Cornwall, England (2001).
- Thermae Bath Spa, Bath, England (2006).
- London School of Economics New Academic Building, London (2008).
- London South Bank University K2 Building, London (2010).
- Cutty Sark conservation project, London, England (2012).
- Pulkovo Airport, St Petersburg, Russia (2014).
- London Bridge Station (2018).
In early 2014, Sir Nicholas was one of five architects featured in the BBC4 series The Brits Who Built the Modern World. In 2016, the same production company also produced ‘Some Kind of Joy: The Inside Story of Grimshaw in Twelve Buildings’, which was shown at film festivals throughout the world.
Sir Nicholas was elected a Royal Academician in 1994 and in the same year was elected an Honorary Fellow of the AIA. He was knighted by the Queen in 2002, and was President of the Royal Academy of Arts from 2004 to 2011. He was awarded the RIBA Gold Medal in 2019. Sir Nicholas stepped down as Chairman of Grimshaw in 2019 but continues to be involved with the practice as founder and partner.
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- Norman Foster.
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- Richard Rogers.
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