That’s the practice, not the man, who is dodging the limelight despite his success

Sir Michael Hopkins may well wake up with a terrible headache today.

Last night, the world-renowned architect had two excellent reasons to crack open the champagne at his Marylebone office. The first was a celebration of 30 years in business as Hopkins Architects and the second was a Stirling prize nomination for the Evelina hospital in south London.

No doubt he and Lady Patty, his wife and practice co-founder, take great pride in being lined up for yet more accolades. Yet unlike Lords Foster or Rogers, the Hopkins duo are remarkably attention-shy.

Ken Shuttleworth, the founder of Make Architects, who worked with Hopkins at Foster Associates in 1977, describes him as: “quite shy and restrained – not a showman at all. He just gets on with the job and designs very strong buildings.”

Shuttleworth adds that Hopkins is “an architect of total integrity – uncompromisingly so”. He is also well known for demanding a great deal from his staff.

One former employee says: “There were pressures on everyone. He is very expectant and does have a high standard. Michael did take the credit, but that was because it was his office and his risk.”

In recent years, however, Hopkins and his wife have allowed their fellow directors, such as Bill Taylor and Andy Barnett, to take some of the glory. Earlier potential successors John Pringle and Ian Sharratt gave up waiting and set up their own practice Pringle Richards Sharratt 10 years ago.

Ken Shuttleworth on Hopkins

"He’s not a showman at all. He just gets on with the job"

Ken Shuttleworth on Hopkins

Naturally, Hopkins’ faith in his own designs can sometimes rub colleagues and clients up the wrong way. “He achieves buildings of great integrity by being tough with clients,” says a collaborator. “He will not let a client weaken his ideas.”

Another former employee adds: “He has a strong personality and with any great architect there are going to be big disputes between architect and client. The ethos of the office was very demanding and he extended this into industry when we worked with people outside of architecture.”

But Hopkins’ talent is undeniable and his career has been littered with awards, including the Royal Gold Medal for Architecture in 1994 won jointly with his wife.

The Evelina hospital is Hopkins’ third Stirling nomination and observers still lament that his second, the 2000 Westminster Underground station, did not win the prize. This could be because it was entered jointly with the project directly above the station, Portcullis House, which is generally considered a low point in his career.

The MPs’ office building got a mauling from the Public Accounts committee, the National Audit Office and the media after a host of problems arose in its first year of operation in 2001.

These included a leaking roof, lack of storage space and offices that became too hot to work in after the innovative cooling system broke down. Hopkins was largely exonerated from blame but his name is still linked to the troubled scheme.

Taylor, now managing director, denies that Portcullis House was a low point for the firm. “The project received both positive and negative comments,” he says. “It was by no means universally condemned. It is a serious building and takes a while for people to get used to.”

Highlights of Hopkins’ architectural career include: the Mound Stand at Lord’s (1987) Jubilee Campus, University of Nottingham (1999), Glyndebourne opera house (1994), Queen’s Building at Emmanuel College, Cambridge (1995) and the Wellcome Trust head office (2004).

Despite his 71 years, Hopkins is still putting in the hours at his practice. “He comes in nearly every day. He designs buildings as well as partaking in design review,” says Taylor.

Succession is an issue for his generation of signature architects (he is the same age as Foster and two years younger than Rogers). Hopkins is thought to have a plan in place but he, like Tony Blair, has yet to name the day.