Prof Sean Griffiths

Prof Sean Griffiths

Professor Sean Griffiths is the principle of Modern Architect and a practicing architect, artist and writer. Alongside teaching he designs architecture, makes gallery-based installations and writes extensively.

Sean was the founding director of the art-architecture collaborative FAT whose design work and art projects have been widely published and discussed. Sean's work as an individual and as a director of FAT has been exhibited at major national and international institutions including the RIBA, the V&A, the ICA, the Royal Academy, and Tate Modern in London, and the Carnegie Mellon Museum of Art in Pittsburgh, the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, Stroom in Den Haag, Arc en Réve in Bourdeaux, the Seccession Haus in Vienna, amongst many others. FAT represented the UK at the 2014 Venice Architecture Biennale.

 Besides his prolific architecture and design projects, art work, media work and his regular curation of group exhibitions and installations, Sean Griffiths has taught extensively both in this country and as visiting critic and professor and as invited lecturer in institutions around the world. He has been Visiting Professor of Architectural Design at Yale University on four occasions between 2007-2016.

Employment history

2014-present - Principal Modern Architect.

1991- 2014 - Director FAT

2007 - 2016 Louis I Kahn Visiting Professor of Architecture, Yale University

2013-present Professor of Architecture , University of Westminster

2001- present Senior Lecturer In Architecture, University of Westminster

1999-2000 Part Time Lecturer In Architecture South Bank University

1996-97 Part Time Lecturer in Architecture and Interiors RCA

1992-99 Part Time Lecturer In Architecture University of Greenwich

1. Blue House, Shoreditch, London (2002)

Griffiths is the main designer in Fashion-Architecture-Taste (FAT), a practice known for their investigations into the contemporary use of popular iconography in architecture, as famously pioneered by Robert Venturi and Denise Scott Brown. This innovative live/work building, affectionately known locally as the 'Blue House', has a cartoon-like billboard character which communicates its function as a home and office. The front has a miniature scale, but the side addressing the main street is made deliberately big in feel. Built for £300,000, the project deploys an innovative use of standard construction methods. The house contains a maisonette for family of three, an office and a separate apartment. Research issues include how to utilise the program requirements and site conditions to create a type of urban housing that play visually on everyday notions about domesticity, yet how achieve this effect within a restricted budget. The scheme aims to achieve a sustainable design that matches with its innovative cultural reading of contemporary urban lifestyles.

The Blue House has been widely featured in books, including The Buildings of England - London Vol.5: East(Yale, 2005, pp. 113, 598); New Architecture in Britain(Merrell, 2003, p.165); New London Architecture(Merrell, 2005, p.163); Anglo Files: UK Architecture's Rising Generation(Thames & Hudson, 2005, pp. 112-27); Gritty Brits: New London Architecture(Carnegie Museum of Art, 2007, pp. 54-55). The project has likewise been extensively covered in architectural and national press, including Sunday Times, Financial Times, Independent, Evening Standard, Icon, L'Architecture d'Aujourd'hui, Building Design, Architecture Today, etc. Furthermore, the Blue House was nominated and shortlisted for the Mies Van der Rohe / European Union Prize for Architecture (2003). FAT is also run along with Sam Jacobs and Charles Holland, but Sean Griffiths was the exclusive designer for this project - his own home.

2. 'Back to the Future: Staying with the suburban ideal', Report for the Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment / Royal Institute of British Architects 'Building Futures' Group, London: CABE/RIBA, 2004

Griffiths is known as a widely read, stimulating and often humorous writer on architecture and urbanism, and indeed for two years he penned a monthly column in Building Design. This sole-authored and highly polemical essay was commissioned jointly by the Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment (CABE) and the RIBA 'Building Futures' Group, with the author being asked to speculate about what housing conditions in Britain might be like in a few decades time. It was published with other texts under the breezy title of Housing Futures 2024.

Running against the dominant aspiration of bodies like CABE and RIBA for high-density brownfield development, Griffiths in this paper puts forward a very different case, one that envisages - and openly welcomes - the spread of American-style suburbia, but within a condition in which the presence of different ethnic groups in Britain has changed the character and meaning of suburbia by 2023. The document is publicised on the CABE and RIBA 'Building Futures' websites, with excerpts of the text by Griffiths, but it should be said that his promotion of suburbia did not go down too well with the commissioning bodies. Nonetheless, it makes a provocative read and sets out the case with aplomb. Not surprisingly, the sentiments of this text by Griffiths were better received in the USA, where lapsed post-modernists such as Robert Stern saw it as support for their long-standing research into the staunchly Anglo-American lineage of the residential suburb. As a result of this essay, linked with their intellectual debt to Robert Venturi and Denise Scott Brown, plus the sheer visual impact of FAT's design projects, Griffiths was invited by Stern as head of Yale University's school of architecture to become a Visiting Professor there for the 2007-08 academic year.

3. Islington Square housing, Woodward Place, Manchester (2006)

This built project arose after FAT was selected unanimously by residents in a 2003 competition to design new houses for the Manchester Methodist Housing Group within Urban Splash's New Islington development. Griffiths was FAT's lead designer in this project. The £2.3 million scheme comprises 23 two-to-four bedroom family homes and gardens. The design's aim is to unify the residents' desire for traditional homes with the masterplan commitment to innovative world-class architecture, and was developed in close collaboration with the occupants. The Islington Square Housing scheme is designed to meet ambitious sustainability targets, intended as an exemplar for future UK construction. The design reduces primary energy, CO 2 emissions and water consumption, 'green' specification of materials and reduction of construction waste, design for life-cycle adaptability, etc. and has an EcoHomes 'excellent' rating. Hence the key issue was to develop a model for mass housing design, achieving a high standard of ecological awareness and more sustainable approach to housing provision.

Once again, the scheme has been widely covered in the architectural and national press, including BBC2's 'Culture Show', Guardian, Times, Financial Times, Daily Mirror, Evening Standard, L'Architecture d'Aujourd'hui, etc. It is also reviewed in: Anglo Files(Thames & Hudson, 2005, pp. 112-27); Gritty Brits(Carnegie Museum of Art, 2007, pp. 56-59); Building Design(28 April 2006, pp. 14-20); Building(31 March 2006, pp. 54-58); Blueprint(May 2006, pp. 84-87); Architecture Today(May 2006, pp. 56-61); Architectural Design(July/August 2006, pp. 122-128); etc. The scheme has won several awards: Best Public Housing Project in 2006 Brick Development Association Awards; Daily Telegraph's'What House' Award; Building Magazine's'Best Development' Award; Regeneration Partnership of the Year Award 2006. It was however famously rejected for a RIBA Regional Award (2007), despite intensive pressure on the judges from RIBA's headquarters and others to recognise it.

4. Sint Lucas Art Academy, Boxtel, Netherlands (2006)

This £3.5 million phased project creates a bold identity for a Dutch art school by rationalizing its spaces, both inside and outside. Griffiths was again FAT's lead designer. The unremarkable 1960s buildings are given a strong, colourful and unusual new appearance through decorative screens, surface treatments and signage. These elements communicate the inner life of a creative educational institution and enhance the outdoor spaces between the existing buildings. The thrust of the interior proposal was to increase the sense of identity and legibility in the main circulation spaces. This was achieved by integrating communal activities, such as study rooms, dining facilities and exhibition spaces, into the main corridors. These become more like streets with activities along them, fostering greater activity and exchange. Circulation spaces were made more generous with connections made more obvious to everyday users and visitors alike, further enhanced by punchy signage. The key research issues in the Sint Lucas project were how to develop a novel image for a contemporary educational institution, and how to use contemporary building techniques in order to create expressive popular iconography which has been largely eroded by modernism.

The resulting design for Sint Lucas Art Academy was extensively covered in architectural journals, including Building Design(26 January 2007, pp. 10-13); Architectural Review(March 2007, pp. 68-73); ArchitectuurNL(vol.62 no.2, 2007, pp. 16-19); etc. The project was nominated and shortlisted for the Mies Van der Rohe / European Union Prize for Architecture (2006), and won a highly prestigious RIBA European Design Award (2007). Griffiths has given nearly 50 public lectures on FAT's work, focussing recently on the Sint Lucas project as the practice's most complex piece of public design. These lectures include Yale University (January 2006), Royal College of Art (April 2006) and Tate Modern (May 2006 and June 2007).

  • Experimental Practice