Photo: A Mc Dougall

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Hugh Casson exercised his manifold talents to enormous effect over a major part of the twentieth century. Born in 1910, he studied architecture at Cambridge and London Universities and practised that profession for the whole of his working life.

But Hugh Casson became famous for much besides architecture. He first leapt to prominence when he was appointed Director of Architecture for the Festival of Britain at the age for 38. His ferocious energy, creative ability, commitment and the charm which he exercised on everybody connected with the 1951 Festival did more than anything guarantee its huge success. He was knighted for his efforts and remained in the public eye for the rest of his career.

Elephant House, London Zoo


After the closure of the South Bank exhibition Sir Hugh returned to Casson Conder, the architectural practice of which he was senior partner. The firm was responsible for such distinguished buildings as the Cambridge University Arts Faculty buildings and the Elephant House at London Zoo.


An outstanding writer, broadcaster and speaker, he was a well-known proselytiser for his profession, his wit and charm enlivening several television series on architectural subjects.

He particularly enjoyed designing sets for the theatre and had a long and happy collaboration with Glyndebourne Festival Opera. He was also in constant demand to judge competitions, chair committees and to speak at conferences.

Simultaneously he created and ran the school of Interior Design at the Royal College of Art. During this time he designed interiors for the Royal Yacht Britannia, for Buckingham Palace, Balmoral and Windsor Castle, remaining until his death a friend of the Royal Family.


Sir Hugh's career was crowned in 1976 by his election as President of the Royal Academy of Arts. He held this prestigious post for eight years, one of the most successful presidents of the famous institution. It was he who established the American Associates of the Royal Academy Trust, linking it in friendship with many generous Americans who have been an important part of its culture ever since. During his tenure the Friends of the Royal Academy were instituted, an organisation which remains today the most loyal supporter of the Royal Academy and its place in the cultural life of Britain.


However it is for his wonderfully intimate and observant watercolours that he is best known. A superb draughtsman despite little formal training, his ability to capture in watercolour the character of a place has been celebrated by the illustrations in the books he wrote so easily; Hugh Casson's Cambridge, Hugh Casson's Oxford, Hugh Casson's London, amongst others. His paintings have a singularity stemming from a passion for the minutiae of his surroundings. Drawing on his ability to closely observe he attracts the attention of the viewer to the tiny details that make up an overall impression of a place. Each work is fundamentally personal and filled with his affectionate perception; his work has a dedicated following and remains increasingly sought after.

He was married for sixty years to the architect, designer and photographer, Margaret Macdonald.

Hugh & Margaret's archives are now held in the Archive of Art & Design at the Victoria and Albert Museum. They can be consulted by arrangement or see this link:

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