As the architect receives the RIBA Royal Gold Medal, Mark Middleton reflects on his mentor’s place in the canon
As an architect, you rarely get time to look beyond the metronomic rhythm of projects and bids to reflect on the significance of your work. With that in mind, the start of this year has been different for everyone at Grimshaw. With this year’s RIBA Gold Medal being awarded to Sir Nick, our founder and chairman, the practice is in full reflection – and celebration – mode.
We have been busy preparing for the award with an accompanying exhibition at Portland Place which runs until March 9. My contribution, working alongside our filmmaker Ned Williams, has been to produce two films about Nick, on his professional life and his influence on the work of the practice. The first is a longer film called Some Kind of Joy and a second, much shorter, one for the exhibition called Evolution.
The most gratifying part of this side project has been the opportunity to listen to comments from Nick’s peers about the work of the practice. My favourite has been the interview with Sir Peter Cook. Nick enrolled at the AA in 1962 and when Peter started tutoring there in 1964 he was one of his first students. Peter remembers him fondly, saying that when he got the tutorial list in the morning it was people like Nick who would cheer him up. The influence of Peter Cook’s Plug-In City and Ron Herron’s Walking City had a well-documented influence on a generation of young British architects, especially for those dubbed as high-tech. Peter places this beyond an interest in radical ideas and the attempt to build a better world during the 1960s but also as part of the English tradition of the boffin, that particular skill the British seem to have of “inventing with bits”, locating its origins to the Second World War.
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