Interview with Alex Grigull

We’re stepping into 2024 with another interview of the month, this time featuring Alex Grigull, UDF Trustee and Co-chair of our Research Group. Alex is an architect and Associate Principal at Grimshaw, a distinguished global architectural firm. With over 15 years on the team, he tackles unique and often complex projects, leveraging innovative approaches across different sectors to push the boundaries of what’s achievable to develop human-centric and progressive designs.

Who are you and what do you do?

I’ve always been driven by a strong motivation to explore beyond my immediate surroundings. Born and educated in Germany, I sought opportunities to experience the broader world. This curiosity has guided me to several continents, sparking an enthusiasm for culturally rooted architecture attuned with creative engineering. Combined with my primary passion for design, I’ve witnessed how inspired architecture can solve real problems, making a profound impact on both people and our planet.

What is your proudest accomplishment?

Professionally, I’ve had the fortune of experiencing several proud moments. One that stands out is the completion of the multi-award-winning Boldrewood Innovation Campus in Southampton. A project I began working on as a young architect, it accompanied me throughout the first decade of my career. Visiting the campus today, I can see my career path come to life, an extraordinary feeling as I witness it teeming with life and activity.

What is your favourite thing about your career?

I approach every aspect of my career with genuine enthusiasm, even the occasionally more challenging ones. Two pillars, Communication and Collaboration, often stand out to me as the bedrock for igniting creativity and bringing purposeful ideas to life.

Describe University Design Forum in a sentence?

UDF is an inspiring forum encouraging dialogue and knowledge exchange. I find joy in being part of this unique initiative, providing a chance to engage with professionals, explore new perspectives, visit exceptional buildings, and engage in thoughtful debates on design approaches. It truly is a unique forum that focuses specifically on improving the design quality of higher education environments.

What is your contribution to University Design Forum?

I am honoured to serve as a Trustee, contributing to the operation of this remarkable organisation. Additionally, as a co-chair of the Research Group at UDF, I lead multiple teams of curious and passionate members, working together to advance various research initiatives.

What does a good HE building mean to you – quote?

A quality higher education building is where learning transcends into an experience, and the space forms a gateway to boundless exploration and endeavours.

One thing about you that will surprise people?

I spent a few years living and working in Southern Africa. Initially with a charity in Johannesburg, caring for people with differing abilities, and later gaining knowledge in an architect’s office in Cape Town. These experiences left me with a profound affinity for Africa, leading to extensive travel across sub-Saharan and western parts of the continent—a significant part of my personal and professional journey.

Future of learning: green or bleak?

Green. Most institutions are driven by ambitious plans and a willingness to extend their focus beyond the primary goal of decarbonising estates. For example, in Australia, we successfully completed a pioneering building for Monash University, the largest certified PassiveHouse education building in the southern hemisphere. Our collective aspiration with institutions is to create environments that not only enhance educational outcomes but also contribute to innovative and sustainable solutions for a smarter, greener future.

Working from home or office?

In general, I believe most places have opted for some form of a hybrid pattern. Embracing this style, I frequently work from various locations. The flexibility is invigorating, yet it can’t replace the valuable time spent together with the team at the studio. Our practice renovated the studio to support a more fluid, inclusive working environment with advanced technology for a fresher approach to team-based working.

Why is UDF important to you?

The Higher Education sector has undergone significant progress since the beginning of my career, making it a dynamic and rapidly evolving environment. Being a part of UDF is taking part in a unique initiative, with a clear focus on elevating the quality of higher education spaces.

Thanks for this Alex!  Contact admin@universitydesignforum.org if you would like to be our next interviewee, we’d love to hear from you … 

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