Interview with Helen Groves

This month we have been chatting with one of our newest Trustees, Helen Groves who is Architect Director at AtkinsRéalis, where she leads the National Education team.

Who are you and what do you do?

I’m Helen Groves, Architect Director at AtkinsRéalis, where I lead the National Education team, covering everything from Nurseries, Schools and Colleges to University Design. Having been a longstanding member of the University Design Forum events group, I was delighted to be invited to become a Trustee in October 2023.

What is your proudest accomplishment?

It is not a single project, but rather the joy generated from creating places that are making a difference in people’s lives.
I remember a particular school: it had just completed and the day after it opened we visited the site. We happened to be walking behind two teenage girls (pupils at the school) and one proudly said to the other “They built this for US, you know!”  That single sentence is what motivates me to keep striving for excellence in design – the knowledge that what we do actually matters!

What is your favourite thing about your career?

The opportunity to carry out design research. Having time to think, to reflect about what we do and how we do it is often seen as a luxury, but in reality it is essential to good design. Working with a talented team of researchers is what attracted me to AtkinsRéalis (then Atkins) in the first place, and I still get a buzz from it.

Describe University Design Forum in a sentence?

A crucible for thinking, learning, querying, testing and ultimately sharing best and next practice with like-minded others.

What is your contribution to University Design Forum?

I am a Trustee and member of the Events Group.

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

Creating spaces that bring out the best in people – remembering that everyone has their own quirks and preferences. A good HE design should allow the individual, be they student, academic or visitor to feel welcomed and comfortable in the space: from the micro scale, e.g. how the furniture allows you to curate your workspace; to the macro scale, such as how to blur the threshold between town and gown at the civic scale of a campus.

One thing about you that will surprise people?

My hobby is glass fusing. It has many parallels with architecture, in that it blends rigorous science with creativity to create a designed piece. The difference is the speed it takes: I work on my glass pieces for hours or weeks, rather than the months and years that buildings take to deliver!

What is your favourite piece of design?

I was brought up in central Mexico, in a Colonial town called Guanajuato. As a child, I watched bricklayers create the most amazing brick vaults, using no formwork but only intuition and experience. I remember being fascinated by them, and being inspired by the masons’ innate understanding of their materials and the world.

I found a YouTube video that explains the process – with the disclaimer that I had no personal connection with this building or the mason: Bricklayers defy gravity, Impressive dome building without any support – YouTube

What makes you laugh the most?

My children – they have grown into individuals who see the world in a positive light, each in their own inimitable way!

Zero Carbon – 2035 or 2055?

Both – it is not going to happen without a great deal of thought, challenge and sheer bloody-mindedness. We have to break it down into bite-sized chunks to stand a chance of making it happen.

Thanks so much for this Helen – it’s been great talking to you!

Contact if you would like to be our next interviewee, we’d love to hear from you …