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Nicholas Grimshaw wins RIBA Royal Gold Medal

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Pioneer of High-Tech architecture Nicholas Grimshaw has won the 2019 RIBA Royal Gold Medal in recognition of his lifetime’s work

Best-known for his International Terminal at London’s Waterloo station and the Eden Project in Cornwall, the ‘extraordinary innovative’ 78-year old was praised for his key role in British architecture over the last half a century. 

The medal is the UK’s highest architecture honour, and the ‘revolutionary and transformative’ architect joins a glittering pantheon of Royal Gold Medallists which includes Zaha Hadid (2016), Frank Gehry (2000), Norman Foster (1983), Frank Lloyd Wright (1941) and George Gilbert Scott (1859).

Last year the award was handed to social-housing pioneer Neave Brown shortly before he died this January.

Grimshaw set up his own practice in 1980 (then Nicholas Grimshaw & Partners later Grimshaw Architects) having worked with Terry Farrell for 15 years. He has built projects around the world – from factories for Herman Miller, to flats in Camden Town and a spa in historic Bath.

Today, his practice employs over 600 staff with offices in Los Angeles, New York, London, Doha, Dubai, Kuala Lumpur, Melbourne and Sydney.

Grimshaw has lectured extensively around the world and is a past president of the Royal Academy. 

On learning that he would receive the Royal Gold Medal, Grimshaw said: ‘I’m thrilled to hear about the Gold Medal and would like to thank those who supported my nomination. My life – and that of the practice – has always been involved in experiment and in ideas, particularly around sustainability; I have always felt we should use the technology of the age we live in for the improvement of mankind.

‘I would like to thank everyone who has ever worked in the office for contributing to our bank of ideas, and for helping to make it an enjoyable and humanistic place.’

RIBA president Ben Derbyshire said: ‘It was my privilege to chair the panel that selected Nicholas Grimshaw for UK architecture’s highest accolade. For more than half a century, his influence has been exceptional.

‘He is responsible for an extraordinary number of buildings and infrastructure projects of international significance, and for the continuous development of an architecture which places technology at the heart of the aesthetic.

‘His influence on architecture extends beyond his work as a practitioner. He is an educator, champion for the UK architectural profession and for culture more widely. He is an inspiration to a future generation of architects and his recognition with this Royal Gold Medal is well overdue.’

Supporters of Grimshaw’s nomination included Peter Cook, Ted Cullinan, Norman Foster, Frank Gehry, Richard Rogers, Simon Allford, sculptor Antony Gormley and designer Jane Priestman.

The selection committee was headed by Derbyshire with Patty Hopkins - herself an RIBA Gold Medallist in 1994, Bob Sheil of the Bartlett School of Architecture, opera chief and honorary fellow Wasfi Kani and Pat Woodward of Matthew Lloyd Architects.

The Royal Gold Medal will be presented to Grimshaw at a ceremony in early 2019.


Royal Gold Medal citation by Simon Allford

I have known Nick Grimshaw since I worked for him in the early 1980s. At this time the practice was well established and known for its pursuit of a particular way of seeing and making buildings. The practice then was only a dozen people but its modus operandi – that has facilitated its growth into a major international practice – was already well established.

The focus then as now was on how buildings should be designed from the outset to respond for the need to change over time in use. The preoccupation was how plan and section could define use, structure and detail to allow for this change. Nick always understood that the life of a building begins once the architect’s engagement ends.

Nick’s particular view on the world thus combines an interest in architecture at the scale of infrastructure, with construction and detail. His focus is on how the technology of new and, wherever appropriate, old materials can work to make an architecture that engages in size (form and silhouettes), detail (celebrating the maker’s mark), energy performance, and long-term capacity for adaptive use. It is this breadth of interest that has made his work both distinguished and of importance to architectural discourse.

The relevance of Nick’s personal response to the challenges of making architecture in the modern era is demonstrated by the fact that his practice has now designed and delivered key projects around the world, all at very different scales and for very different client groups.

Nick’s influence on the profession also extends beyond his work as a practitioner. He has chaired numerous national and international juries for both competitions and awards. He has lectured extensively and around the world, examined and taught widely and is a past president of both the Architectural Association and the Royal Academy.

In this latter role, he played a key part in garnering the support of painters, sculptors and printmakers, as well of course as the architects, in creating a new facility for, amongst other things, the permanent display of architecture in the new extension of the Royal Academy at Burlington Gardens.

It is for the reasons listed in the supporting documentation, following my nomination of Nick Grimshaw, I have been able to garner the support of seven Gold Medallists three of whom are also Pritzker Prize winners from both the UK and abroad and a host of other leading architects, artists, writers, critics and clients.

 See more work by Grimshaw in the AJ Buildings Library


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