Nicholas Grimshaw reveals 10 high-tech career highlights

High-tech pioneer Nicholas Grimshaw has stepped down as chairman of his eponymous architecture studio . In this series of movies he talks through 10 highlights that defined his five-decade career.


Park Road Apartments, London, UK, 1970

One of Grimshaw’s earliest projects, completed while he was working in partnership with Terry Farrell , this 11-storey apartment block overlooking Regent’s Park was the architect’s home for six years.

“The thing about this building is that it’s incredibly cheap,” explained Grimshaw. “We had to find the simplest way of doing everything. We opted for having a ribbed aluminium skin, which you can make go round the corner by simply speeding up the rollers they go through – its the easiest thing in the world.”

“People said initially you can’t clad a building just in flimsy aluminium, its ridiculous. But here it is 40 years later and it pretty much looks as good as the day it was put up,” he added.


Herman Miller Factory, Chippenham, UK, 1976

This factory on the River Avon for open-plan furniture manufacturer Herman Miller was also completed while Grimshaw and Farrell were working together.

Designed to be extremely flexible, the building has a steel frame, with interchangeable fibre-glass panels or glazing that can be placed in and moved as the building’s function changes.

“I wanted to call it Action Factory, like their Action Office,” said Grimshaw. “I wanted it to be a factory that could be reconfigured, changeable and adaptable.”


Financial Times Printworks, London, UK, 1988

Grimshaw designed the printworks to accommodate the Financial Times ‘ printing press after the newspaper relocated to London Docklands from Fleet Street in the 1980s.

Like many high-tech buildings, the structure is clearly visible, with a 96 metre-long wall made from frameless structural glazing displaying the printing presses in a “vast shop window”.

“We went to see this enormous printing press, it was absolutely mind-blowing. Like a huge ship’s boiler room thundering away. It was heroic And I said to them ‘you’ve got to show this to the world’,” explained Grimshaw.

In the late 1990s the building was converted into a data centre.


Sainsbury’s Store & Grand Union Walk Housing, London, UK, 1988

Grimshaw designed a supermarket and terrace of canal-side houses for British retailer Sainsbury’s for a site alongside a gothic revival church and Georgian terraced housing in Camden, London.

“They [Sainsbury’s] had had four goes at getting planning permission, and the planners basically said to them: ‘just get yourselves a decent architect – do a proper building’. We came along and did this scheme for them and got planning, I think, in six weeks,” said Grimshaw.

The supermarket has a skeletal steel-framed structure, with a gentle vault spanning the entire shopping area. The terrace of houses, which was designed to share the aesthetic of Grimshaw’s other high-tech industrial buildings, has aluminium panelled walls broken by bus windows.


British Pavilion Expo ’92, Seville, Spain, 1992

Based on the theme of water, Grimshaw’s pavilion at Seville Expo ’92  was designed to demonstrate that buildings could be energy efficient even during the city’s summer months.

“Seville is the frying pan of Spain, I think its called,” Grimshaw recalled. “Most Expo ’92 buildings just relied on the fact of blasting air-conditioned air into them and using huge amounts of energy. And we wanted to show that you could deal with this incredibly hot location ecologically and economically using modern materials and using a modern building.”

The pavilion has a solid wall made out of water tanks on its west-facing side to reduce the amount of heat entering the building, and a “water wall” – made from glass panels with water continuously flowing down it, which was powered by solar panels – on the east side.

It won the prize for using the least amount of energy during the six months that the expo was open.


International Terminal, Waterloo Station, London, UK, 1994

One of the UK’s most significant high-tech buildings, the International Terminal at London’s Waterloo Station won the RIBA Building of the Year – the predecessor to the Stirling Prize – and the Mies van der Rohe Award . It was designed to be the terminal for trains heading to Paris.

“The idea of going to France by train was kind of a glamorous concept in its own right then, and so the terminal had to be heroic in some way,” explained Grimshaw. “I don’t think anyone looking at those first views of it thought it wasn’t heroic enough.”

The building has four platforms squeezed alongside the existing station, covered by an asymmetrical twisting roof. All of the station’s other functions – ticket check, departure areas and passport check – were placed under the tracks. Eurostar trains ran from the terminal from 1994 until 2007 when services were moved to St Pancras International.

“People ask me what my most important project is and I would always say ‘Waterloo’, without a doubt,” added Grimshaw.


Igus Factory & Headquarters, Cologne, Germany, 1994

Grimshaw designed this factory for plastic bearing manufacturer Igus to be internally flexible and be easy to expand. In each section the roof and walls are supported from a bright yellow pylon.

Nothing is built in a fixed position, including the toilets and offices, which are built in pods that can be moved around internally. So far Igus have extended the building seven times.

“We were going for this no columns inside the building idea, and we wanted the building to have some impact so we suspended it from these pylons,” said Grimshaw. “We provided north light, which is a traditional thing for craftsmen to work by, so instead of a flat roof you have these semi-circular domes on top, and they again gave the building some form.”


Eden Project, Cornwall, UK, 2001

Perhaps Grimshaw’s best-known project, the Eden Project is an ecological park that was built in a quarry in Cornwall.

“We came upon this place, pushed our ways through the bushes, being rather careful because we knew there was a precipice there, and we pushed the final row of stuff apart and there was this quite extraordinary moon landscape,” said Grimshaw.

Originally intended to have a vaulted structure similar to the International Terminal at Waterloo, the building’s distinctive bubble-like shape was created to allow it to be designed while the quarry was still being excavated. Each of the interconnected domes is constructed from a steel frame covered in hexagonal EFTE panels.

“We designed the pillows so that they could be replaced. And over the years that that structure exists, more and more fascinating cladding systems might emerge and eventually it might actually grow its own skin and sort of clad with plant life,” added Grimshaw.

“I think one of the big architectural issues of the future is realising the real significance of plants in human life, and the connection between plants and buildings can only get closer I think.”


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Frankfurt Trade Fair Hall, Frankfurt, Germany, 2001

Grimshaw based the design of a 40,000-square-metre exhibition hall for the Messe Frankfurt – one of the world’s largest trade fairs – on a leaf. The exhibition hall is one of the largest column-free spaces in Europe.

“You really need to hand the floor to the users to do whatever they like with,” said Grimshaw. “I’ve still got the plant in my garden, which I got the leaves off. My idea was to do these leaf-like structures.”


Thermae Bath Spa, Bath, UK, 2006

In the UNESCO World Heritage City of Bath in southwest England, Grimshaw created a modern building that is designed to fit in with the largely 18th-century buildings of the city. The stone building containing a pool and spa rooms is wrapped within a glass cube, which reflects the existing structure, and topped with a rooftop pool.

“As far as I recollect there was very little brief. They basically said ‘look, when you get out of Bath on the train it says Bath Spa, and we haven’t got a spa, so we think its time we put ourselves on the map’,” said Grimshaw.

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