Clare+Hughes+copyright+John+Dawson

Creative Director at Thinc, an exhibition and museum design studio in New York City. Formerly Partner in award-winning architecture practice Feilden Clegg Bradley Studios, London.

I am a creative director, working across architecture, museum design, film-making and storytelling. My practice combines innovative narrative play, film-making and designing spatial experiences. I think of form, volume, light, materials and surfaces, and the relationships between all of these, as so many characters and plot-lines in a great film or novel. So architecture and film have more in common than you might think, and for me the bridge has always been to express the essence of a good story in all of them. A story with boots on.

As a partner with architects Feilden Clegg Bradley Studios in London, and now as Creative Director with exhibition designers Thinc in New York, my first question is always ‘how can we tell a story using three-dimensional space?’. My second question is: ‘What can this project really DO?’ Design, storytelling, place-making are all in service of the people who live, visit or work in our buildings and historic sites, and they are so many tools to enhance our lives and build connections within and across our communities.

I am currently absorbed in telling the extraordinary story of the American modernist Georgia O’Keeffe in New York and New Mexico, creating a sense of drama and transformation within the usually calm and quiet spaces of an art museum. Our work goes beyond the museum walls to draw out the relevance of her work for diverse communities in today’s very different world, and aims to encourage people out into the arid landscapes of New Mexico where the artist worked and lived for more than fifty years.

While I love a good story for its own sake, the work I do usually involves stories that really matter, that materially affect people’s lives. Stories affect how we conceive of what is possible in the world, of what is right and what is wrong, and of what is possible for ourselves and our communities. The museums I choose to work with are increasingly willing to tackle some of the most pressing stories of our age: climate change, the legacy of slavery, the injustices behind mass incarceration, gay rights, empowerment of women and girls.

On other projects storytelling is more subtle, part of place-making and creative reuse like the Southbank Centre. Here, we had to reanimate the utopian origins of the site to unite four different venues and to create a stronger sense of place. Community and innovation create the story at Alexandra Palace, the mother of all immersive spaces before that word was even invented. A popular entertainment hall in the 19th century, home to the BBC Studios in the 1930s and today a thriving venue for music, fairs and festivals.  Both these projects have place-making at their heart; bold and ambitious providers of community connectivity and cultural capital.

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