Sir Nicholas Grimshaw was born in 1939. Upon his graduation from the Architectural Association (AA) in 1965 he started a partnership with Terence Farrell in London. In 1980, Grimshaw established his own firm, which is internationally renown for structural, industrial and technical experimentation, and its emphasis on structure, space, skin and intricate detailing. Today Grimshaw & Partners has offices employing over 200 architects in London, New York and Melbourne. The practice is known internationally for its grand and elegant projects: the Waterloo Train Station in London, the Zurich Airport expansion, the National Space Centre in Leicester, the British Pavilion at World’s EXPO ‘92 in Seville, and the Museum of Steel in Monterrey, Mexico. Grimsahw’s famous Eden Project in Cornwall, England, is based on the segmented geometry of Buckminster Fuller’s geodesic dome to permit a great flexibility of separately controlled microclimates for variety of plants. In 2002, the architect was knighted for his professional achievements and since 2004 he has served as the president of the Royal Academy of Arts. In 2007, Sir Grimshaw won the international competition to design a new Pulkovo Airport in St. Petersburg, Russia. The design is based on an intriguing concept – the city of islands with check-in, security and departure zones pulled apart by wide openings reminiscent of water canals of St. Petersburg. These zones are to be connected by a multitude of bridges over baggage claim and arrivals areas below. The roof design is based on a system of 18m bays, which are supported by central stems and act as large hoppers, collecting rain or snow. The folds are based on small faceted fragments of Russian onion domes, but abstracted on a grand scale into a hovering inverted landscape tinted in noble gold. I met with Sir Nicholas Grimshaw in his futuristic looking office in London. To get inside his aquarium-like office one needs to cross a glass bridge, then sign the attendance journal, clip a fancy visitor’s pass and wait in an arched pad that features dozens of multicolor interactive mood lighting pieces. Before coming to London, I visited your office in New York where you are working on a number of projects in North America. One of the projects is a new outdoor concert arena for a city park in Brighton-Beach, Brooklyn, which is the main center of the Russian Diaspora. This park has become a major venue for Russian pop culture stars who often give free public performances there. So in a way, it is your first project for Russian community.
Yes, you are right and it will soon be ready for construction. We were selected through the City of New York Department of Design and Construction initiative called the Design Excellence Program. Our scheme was chosen out of eight proposals by local architects. The idea there is to morph the stage and seating areas into a manmade landscape and (with the use of the most advanced audio technology) to minimize the noise impact on the neighborhood. We also try to increase the use of the park’s new integrated playgrounds and walkways. Let’s talk about your winning competition project for the Pulkovo Airport in St. Petersburg. Your main competitor was SOM. What do you think was the key advantage of your proposal? I think the fact that we are a European firm and that we have done a lot of work in Europe played a big role. After all, St. Petersburg is kind of the face of Russia talking to Europe, is it not? The whole city was built as a sort of catalyst for communicating with Europe. So our proposal wasn’t just about solving practical issues but also positioned to project a very emotional statement. Your architecture grows from an understanding of the process of a particular program. How was your idea for Pulkovo Airport developed?
Initially, most of the criticism was about not taking into consideration the local climate and the particular character of the city. So, in our final scheme we tried to bring such elements across through the tiny hints of gold that the very low sun picks up in the domes and spires across the beautiful skyline of this wonderful city. I think the main criticism of SOM was that their airport could have been built anywhere. Also, I suppose, the British are very romantic about the snow, which does not fall here often. We tend to see it as something very beautiful, but I realized that in St. Petersburg it might be viewed as something very oppressive, especially at a place like the airport. So, in a functional situation, you don’t want to see the snow at all. That’s why my idea was to make the roofs inward flawing, like a trough. We expressed it as a series of interlocking troughs so that the snow would get collected there and act as a good insulator and then melt and drain inside the building. Also, I think the key thing at airports is the passenger flow. You want to have a sense of purpose and knowing where you are and be able to orient yourself. The other thing is to have a sense of joy, uplift and excitement of arrival and departure. I think this project celebrates structure in a very unusual way compared to your other projects—through surfaces, joints, alignments and the ways in which structure is hidden rather than exposed. Were any of these things determined by your personal observations while visiting St. Petersburg and did Russian architecture have any influence on your work or education?
I visited the city twice during the competition and went back there again recently for another meeting. I have also been to nearby places like Stockholm and Helsinki a number of times so I know the latitude there. As far as architecture, to me a strong influence was the craftsmanship of traditional timber construction and detailing. Also, I always admired Berthold Lubetkin, a Russian émigré architect who pioneered modernist design in Britain in the 1930s.
What are some of the lessons that you learned from other cities that you would like to bring to Russia?
Climate is a major generator for our design decisions and every city is different. For example, we just finished a train station in Melbourne. Its roof is entirely designed for local climatic conditions. It is clad in metal and shaped like sand dunes. The idea there is that the wind comes from all directions to extract the fumes up from the station through regularly spaced openings. So it is a completely different concept from St. Petersburg.
It sounds like engineering reasoning is what really drives your architecture.
But the fascinating thing is that you get your aesthetic appeal to shape buildings for factual reasons.
Why do you think international architects should build in Russia? I think young architects in Russia need to try to find new ground after the chill of the concrete period that dominated there for so many years.
I think the period you are referring to has dominated all over the world, no?
Yes, you are quite right, but not to the extreme it did in Russia. We built quite a few of those concrete towers in Britain as well and they are being demolished now. You don’t think some of them are worth of preserving?
Very few because they were not designed with people in mind. Most were designed for economy and mass production and climate-wise they are pretty big disasters because of a lack of insulation and so on. I have visited many of such buildings in East Berlin. You could laterally put your fist in the cracks between the panels. It is interesting that some of these buildings were taken apart and the panels were used for forming roads. I think what we architects from abroad could do for Russia is to act as a catalyst just by simply putting forward ideas and talking about the principals on which we design. It is interesting to see how the emerging architects in Russia will start to react.. If we can demonstrate the right kind of architecture it can make quite a big difference.
You inherited an interest in engineering from two of your great-grandfathers – one was responsible for overseeing the installation of Dublin’s drainage and sanitation system, while the other built dams in Egypt. Can you talk about your family and who introduced you to architecture?
One of my great-grandfathers lived in Alexandria where he spent almost his entire life. He designed and built dams and irrigation systems. His son, my grandfather, grew up in Egypt, then moved to Ireland and was killed during World War One at a young age. My father was born in Ireland and worked as an aircraft engineer and my mother was an artist. So you can say that this architect is a combination of an engineer and an artist. My grandmother was a very good portrait painter. My older sister is a well-known photographer and my younger sister is an artist. So I always had an interest in art. But a critical time for me was when I went to a local architect’s office at the age of 17 and realized that what they were doing felt right. Also my brother-in-law had a teaching job at the University of Edinburgh. He introduced me to a professor of architecture there. That young man said to me – “Why don’t you try architecture?” And the moment I walked into design studio I felt happy. So I followed his advice. It was a very traditional school. We did a lot of shadow and life drawings, calligraphy, perspectives, scale models and we concentrated a lot on structures. We were also encouraged to use local materials in our projects, such as pine and slate, and we had to draw construction details at full scale.
How influential was Buckminster Fuller’s work for you? Did you collaborate with him on any projects?
I knew him through my older sister, the photographer. He came to London for a series of lectures in 1967. He was famous for talking for many hours non-stop. Once he gave a kind of a lecture marathon at the London School of Economics. People would come and go, have meals, come back and he would still be talking. He was the most extraordinary, charismatic speaker. He came to see my very first realized project. After the visit, we went to a local restaurant for a meal and then after a little while he said: “I have to sleep now”. So he put his arms around his head and went to sleep. He remained motionless forabout 15 minutes and then we continued the conversation. Fuller’s work was enormously influential from every angle, particularly from a philosophical point of view. He had a very strong feeling about recourse. He used to call people the ‘haves’ and the ‘have-nots’ and his life’s work was to distribute some of the wealth from the “haves’ to the ‘have-nots’. He had an enormous capacity for looking at the world as a whole and he predicted many concerns about energy conservation and issues of sustainability.
What was your first project, the one that you showed to Fuller?
It was a freestanding tower of bathrooms built behind the converted International Students Club hostel for 175 students in Sussex Gardens near Paddington Station. At the tower’s core there was a spinal steel structure from which the bathroom units and the ramp were cantilevered. The structure also housed pipework and ventilation bunking. There were 18 full bathrooms, 12 showers and 12 lavatory and washbasin units. Fuller was a pioneer in that field and he saw it as the core for mass housing.
I am staying in a hotel in Sussex Gardens. Is this tower still around?
Sadly, no. The hostel was eventually converted into a hotel with individual bathrooms in each of the rooms.
It is such an intriguing project. How did you find such a perfect client?
My uncle used to work for the organization that invested money in converting these derelict houses into hostels. The houses were damaged during the Second World War and were unoccupied for over 20 years. So they were bought very cheaply and my uncle said that he has a nephew who just graduated from architecture college and he would be able to help to chose some colors or something. They didn’t realize how badly these buildings were damaged and it turned out to be a very big project. The office was still tiny – just myself, Terry Farrell and a couple of helpers. You see, at a young age you don’t worry whether you could do something or not – you just do it. And it is a great feeling.
I guess, after this project you could do anything. What was your next project?
This project taught me everything. Our contractor had very little experience and I had to organize 36 subcontractors by myself so I learned a lot of practical things very quickly. The next project was the block of flats near Regency Park. It was co-ownership housing for artists, architects and photographers. It was built at a time when the government encouraged these types of coops and they would fund the project. So I found the people who were interested in that kind of living and became the architect for it. When it was built I moved with my family to the penthouse. It was a great experience, but of course, whenever the lifts broke down, everybody would come to complain and blame the architect.
How do you manage to combine the work in the office and being the president of the Royal Academy of Arts? What was your involvement in planning and arranging the “From Russia” exhibit?
I’m in my fourth year of being the president, which means I was elected four times by the fellows of the Academy. I devote two days a week entirely to the Academy and the rest of the time, I am here, working on architectural projects. Of course, I was very involved with the exhibition’s organization, especially with madam Antonova, the famous director of the Pushkin Museum. There was a lot of tension after Russia withdrew permission for the loan of the masterpieces for the exhibition fearing legal actions to claim ownership of some of the paintings by the descendants of Sergei Shchukin, one of the original collectors. Permission was eventually granted after “maximum possible assurances” were given by the British government to protect art from seizure. It is the most wonderful exhibition at the Academy in many years with 120 paintings by Renoir, Cézanne, Van Gogh, Gauguin, Matisse, Kandinsky, Tatlin and Malevich. Last week on the last day of the show, after it was already closed to the public I went for the last round with my wife. It was just wonderful. It was fascinating to see all of these works together and follow how French art effected Russian artists. Did you have a chance to see it?
Yes, also on the very last day and also together with my wife, but with huge crowds of people between us. So it was a different experience, but quite wonderful.
I love art and I also love music. Another thing I do is a Norfolk Music Festival where I own a house. It is in its fourth year now. How did you start it?
My musician friends came up with the idea and asked me to sponsor it. Every year I buy all the empty seats and now we have them less and less. We had some very nice quartets, octets and solo pianists and they take place in a couple of beautiful local churches. The festival runs for a week and it attracts hundreds of people.
Are you planning to build the concert arena for this festival?
Yes, I imagine it will be in wood, like an upside-down boat.
Your architecture is about structure, order, details and flexibility. What else is important and what architectural qualities are you trying to express?
I think the main thing for me is the people’s flow. I suppose some architects will design space for the sake of space. For example, when people look at David Chiperfied’s heroic spaces they say, you know ‘what a wonderful space’ or whatever. I work in the reverse. I think the space should be shaped by what is happening – the flow of people, expression of interior spaces,differentiation between inside and outside skin instead of doing a piece of sculpture, which people may or may not like. You once described the sculpturally expressionistic architecture of Frank Gehry as scaffolding that holds the outside skin and the inside skin but not a structure as such. Do you think buildings, whenever possible, should honestly display the way they are put together?
This is true: in his work there is no particular relationship between the inside skin and the outside skin. But it wasn’t his intention. He would be the first to say – I don’t give a damn how the skin is held up. I want this shape to be like that – because he works like a sculptor. And he is doing wonderful and amazing buildings. So I don’t think you have to express structure. But I think ideally, people should be able to understand how the structure works.
You have written that your buildings must be able to shed their skin. Could you elaborate on what you mean?
I believe that one day buildings will be able to grow organic transparent skin, like dragonfly’s wings. But the structure would remain and the skin would breathe, endlessly renew itself, change opacity, transparency and the level of insulation, and adapt to different temperatures just like an animal’s skin and fur. You will see in the future that buildings will be less like art and more organic like plants.
Are you all about the latest technology in your daily life – meaning – do you like getting the latest car or gadgets like watches or cell phones?
Not at all. But I do have Toyota Prius, which is a hybrid car. It is a very clever car in the way it shares energy between the breaks, the lights and the air-conditioning. Every time you put your foot on the breaks, it generates electricity. I also find the touch screen of my iPhone quite fascinating. But I am not a big fan of computers and I still like to sketch by hand.
So if I ask you to draw something for me what would it be?
I’d make a drawing of Pulkovo Airport hoppers with the folded roof and how it was developed from its original basic form to what it has become today.
Grimshaw Architects Office in London 57 Clerkenwell Road, Islington April 21, 2008 Nicholas Grimshaw 46 47
In Three Voices
The high-rise – 41 stories high – housing complex HIDE is being built on the bank of the Setun River, near the Poklonnaya Mountain. It consists of three towers of equal height, yet interpreted in three different ways. One of the towers, the most conspicuous one looks as if it was twisted in a spiral, composed of a multitude of golden bay windows.
Dynamics of the Avenue
On Leningrad Avenue, not far away from the Sokol metro station, the construction of the A-Class business center Alcon II has been completed. ADM architects designed the main façade as three volumetric ribbons, as if the busy traffic of the avenue “shook” the matter sending large waves through it.
Steamer at the Pier
An apartment hotel that looks like a ship with wide decks has been designed for a land plot on a lake shore in Moscow’s South Tushino. This “steamer” house, overlooking the lake and the river port, does indeed look as if it were ready to sail away.
The Magic of Rhythm or Ornament as a Theme
Designed by Sergey Tchoban, the housing complex Veren Place in St. Petersburg is the perfect example of inserting a new building into a historical city, and one the cases of implementing the strategy that the architect presented a few years ago in the book, which he coauthored with Vladimir Sedov, called “30:70. Architecture as a Balance of Forces”.
Walking on Water
In the nearest future, the Marc Chagall Embankment will be turned into Moscow’s largest riverside park with green promenades, cycling and jogging trails, a spa center on water, a water garden, and sculptural pavilions designed in the spirit of the Russian avant-garde artists of the 1920, and, first of all, Chagall himself. In this issue, we are covering the second-stage project.
A-Len has developed and patented the “Perfect Apartments” program, which totally eliminates “bad” apartment layouts. In this article, we are sharing how this program came around, what it is about, who can benefit from it, and how.
“Architectural Archaeology of the Narkomfin Building”: the Recap
One of the most important events of 2020 has been the completion of the long-awaited restoration of the monument of Soviet avant-garde architecture – the Narkomfin Building, the progenitor of the typology of social housing in this country. The house retained its residential function as the main one, alongside with a number of artifacts and restoration clearances turned into living museum exhibits.
LIFE on the Setun River
The area in the valley of the Setun River near the Vereiskaya Street got two new blocks of the “LIFE-Kutuzovsky” housing complex, designed by ADM architects. The two new blocks have a retail boulevard of their own, and a small riverside park.
Three towers on a podium over the Ramenka River are the new dominant elements on the edge of a Soviet “microdistrict”. Their scale is quite modern: the height is 176 m – almost a skyscraper; the facades are made of glass and steel. Their graceful proportions are emphasized by a strict white grid, and the volumetric composition picks up the diagonal “grid of coordinates” that was once outlined in the southwest of Moscow by the architects of the 1970’s and 1980’s.
Clouds over the Railroad
In the stead of former warehouses near “Lyubertsy-1” station, a new housing complex has been built, which peacefully coexists with the railroad, with the flyover bridge, and with the diverse surrounding scenery, not only dominating over the latter, but improving it.
Towers in a Forest
The authors of the housing complex “In the Heart of Pushkino” were faced with a difficult task: to preserve the already existing urban forest, at the same time building on it a compound of rather high density. This is how three towers at the edge of the forest appeared with highly developed public spaces in their podiums and graceful “tucks” in the crowning part of the 18-story volumes.
The Towers of “Sputnik”
Six towers, which make up a large housing complex standing on the bank of the Moskva River at the very start of the Novorizhskoe Highway, provide the answers to a whole number of marketing requirements and meets a whole number of restrictions, offering a simple rhythm and a laconic formula for the houses that the developer preferred to see as “flashy”.
The Starting Point
In this article, we are reviewing two retro projects: one is 20 years old, the other is 25. One of them is Saint Petersburg’s first-ever townhouse complex; the other became the first example of a high-end residential complex on Krestovsky Island. Both were designed and built by Evgeny Gerasimov and Partners.
The Path to New Ornamentation
The high-end residential complex “Aristocrat” situated next to a pine park at the start of the Rublev Highway presents a new stage of development of Moscow’s decorative historicist architecture: expensively decorated, yet largely based on light-colored tones, and masterfully using the romantic veneer of majolica inserts.
Renovation: the Far East Style
The competition project of renovating two central city blocks of Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk, developed by UNK project, won the nomination “Architectural and planning solutions of city construction”.
The Istituto Centrale per la Grafica in Rome presents Sergei Tchoban’s exhibition “Imprint of the future. Destiny of Piranesi’s City”. The exhibition includes four etchings, based on Roman architectural views of the XVIII century complemented by futuristic insertions, as well as a lot of drawings that investigate the same topic, at times quite expressively. The exhibition poses questions, but does not seem to give any answers. Since going to Rome is pretty problematic now, let’s at least examine the pictures.
In Search of Visual Clarity
In this article, we are reviewing a discussion devoted to the question of designing city space elements, which is quite complicated for the Russian expanses of land. The discussion was organized by the Genplan Institute of Moscow at the ArchMoscow convention in Gostiny Dvor.
The City of the Sun
Jointly designed by Sergey Tchoban and Vladimir Plotkin, the VTB Arena Park complex can arguably be considered the perfect experiment on solving the centuries-old controversy between traditional architecture and modernism. The framework of the design code, combined with the creative character of the plastique-based dialogue between the buildings, formed an all-but-perfect fragment of the city fabric.
...The Other Was Just Railroad Gin*
In their project of the third stage of “Ligovsky City” housing complex, located in the industrial “gray” belt of Saint Petersburg, the KCAP & Orange Architects & A-Len consortium set before themselves a task of keeping up the genius loci by preserving the contours of the railroad and likening the volumes of residential buildings to railroad containers, stacked up at the goods unloading station.
Lions on Glass
While reconstructing the facades of Building 4 of Moscow Hospital #23, SPEECH architects applied a technique, already known from Saint Petersburg projects by Sergey Tchoban – cassettes with elements of classical architecture printed on glass. The project was developed gratis, as a help to the hospital.
Park of Sentiments
The project of “Romantic Park Tuchkov Buyan”, which was developed by the consortium of Studio 44 and WEST 8, and has won an international competition, combines sculptural landscape design and wooden structures, variety of spatial features and an eventful agenda, designed for diverse audience, with a beautiful and complex passeist idea of a palace park, meant to evoke thoughts and feelings.
Architecture as an Educational Tool
The concept of a charity school “Tochka Budushchego” (“Point of the Future”) in Irkutsk is based on cutting-edge educational programs, and is designed, among other things, for adapting orphaned children for independent life. An important role is played by the architecture of the building: its structure and different types of interconnected spaces.
The Gallery Approach
In this article, we are covering the concept of a Central District Clinic for 240 patients, designed by Ginzburg Architects, which won at a competition organized by the Architects Union and the Healthcare Ministry.
In this issue, we are publishing the concept of a standard clinic designed by UNK Project, which took second place in the competition organized by the Union of Architects of Russia in collaboration with the Healthcare Ministry.
From Foundation to Teaspoon
Based on the taste of their friendly clients, the architects Olga Budennaya and Roman Leonidov designed and built a house in the Moscow metropolitan area playing Art Nouveau. At the same time, they enriched the typology of a private house with modern functions of a garage loft and a children’s art studio.
Continuation and Development
The second “office” stage of Comcity, the most popular business park of the “New Moscow” area, continues the underground street of the already existing part of the complex, responding to its architectural identity.
The Flying One
Expected to become an analogue of Moscow’s Skolkovo, the project of the High Park campus at Saint Petersburg’s ITMO University, designed by Studio 44, mesmerizes us with its sheer scale and the passion that the architects poured into it. Its core – the academic center – is interpreted as an avant-garde composition inspired by Piazza del Campo with a bell tower; the park is reminiscent of the “rays” of the main streets of Saint Petersburg, and, if watched from a birds-eye view, the whole complex looks like a motherboard with at least four processors on it. The design of the academic building even displays a few features of a sports arena. The project has a lot of meanings and allusions about it; all of them are united by plastique energy that the hadron collider itself could be jealous of.
A Comfortable City in Itself
The project that we are about to cover is seemingly impossible amidst human anthills, chaotically interspersed with old semi-neglected dachas. Meanwhile, the housing complex built on the Comcity business part does offer a comfortable environment of decent city: not excessively high-rise and moderately private as a version of the perfect modern urbanist solution.
Moving on the Edge
The housing complex “Litsa” (“Faces”) on Moscow’s Khodynka Field is one of the new grand-scale buildings that complement the construction around it. This particular building skillfully tackles the scale, subjugating it to the silhouette and the pattern; it also makes the most of the combination of a challenging land site and formidable square footage requirements, packing a whole number of features within one volume, so the house becomes an analogue of a city. And, to cap it all, it looks like a family that securely protects the children playing in the yard from... well, from everything, really.
Visual Stability Agent
A comparatively small house standing on the border of the Bolshevik Factory combines two diametrically opposite features: expensive materials and decorative character of Art Deco, and a wide-spaced, even somewhat brutal, facade grid that highlights a laminated attic.
The Faraday Cage
The project of the boutique apartment complex in the 1st Truzhenikov Lane is the architects’ attempt to squeeze a considerable volume into a tiny spot of land, at the same time making it look graceful and respectable. What came to their rescue was metal, stone, and curvilinear glass.
The Union of Art and Technology
His interest for architecture of the 1930’s is pretty much the guiding star for Stepan Liphart. In his project of the “Amo” house on St. Petersburg’s Vasilyevsky Island, the architect based himself on Moscow Art Deco - aesthetically intricate and decorated in scratch-work technique. As a bonus, he developed the city block typology as an organic structure.
The project that Evgeniy Gerasimov and Partners developed for Moscow’s Leningrad Avenue: the tallest building in the company’s portfolio, continuing the tradition of Moscow’s Stalin architecture.
In the project that they developed for a southern region of Russia, OSA Architects use multilayered facades that create an image of seaside resort architecture, and, in the vein of the latest trends of today, mix up different social groups that the residents belong to.
Just a Mirror for the Sun
The house that Sergey Skuratov designed in Nikolovorobinsky Alley is thought out down to the last detail. It adapts three historical facades, interprets a feeling of a complex city, is composed of many layers, and catches plenty of sunlight, from sunrises to sunsets. The architect himself believes that the main role of this house is creating a background for another nearby project of his, Art House in the Tessinsky Alley.
Part of the Whole
On June 5, the winners of Moscow Architectural Award were announced. The winners list includes the project of a school in Troitsk for 2,100 students, with its own astronomy dome, IT testing ground, museum, and a greenhouse on the roof.
Yet another project of a private school, in which Archimatika realizes the concept of aesthetic education and introduces a new tradition: combining Scandinavian and Soviet experience, turning to works of art, and implementing sustainable technologies.
In the “Parallel House” residence that he designed in the Moscow metropolitan area, the architect Roman Leonidov created a dramatic sculptural composition from totally basic shapes – parallelepipeds, whose collision turned into an exciting show.
In the Istra district of Moscow metropolitan area, the tandem of 4izmerenie and ARS-ST designed a sports complex – a monovolume that has the shape of a chamfered parallelepiped with a pointed “nose” like a ship’s bow.
Stairway to Heaven
The project of a hotel in the settlement of Yantarny is an example of a new recreational complex typology, and a new format that unites the hotel, the business, and the cultural functions. All of this is complemented by 100% integration with nature.