ARCHITECTS • LFA DIGITAL 2020
The portrait was taken within an exhibition that we had designed at the Victoria and Albert Museum in 2013, entitled ‘Music Hall: Sickert and the Three Graces’, which looked at the Bedford Music Hall in Camden that had been demolished in the 1960s, and its legacy. We worked with a playwright, theatre director, and filmmaker to create a series of spaces that unpacked the story. The space in the photograph was a complete recreation of someone’s room that we copied from an old people’s home, creating an immersive experience told through objects, stage sets, and film. The project looked at how past memories of performing were brought back by playing the piano. There was a parallel with memory and the disappearing building, and how Music Hall has now become a lost artform.
I have a background in both architecture and theatre design, and in fact it was the V&A that first introduced me to exhibition design in a project before this one called ‘Telling Tales’, a few years earlier. Once I had designed this exhibition, there was no going back. Exhibition design I think sits perfectly between the two disciplines of theatre and architecture and shows how stories and ideas can be communicated in a theatrical way through good design. At the time of the portrait the company was quite fresh; we had started it with a view to working on arts-based projects hot on the heels of working at the V&A.
Now ten years into Nissen Richards Studio, we have grown in numbers to just over 20 people, and in the range of people’s skills. We have created a multi-disciplinary team of dedicated individuals who are architects, exhibition designers, graphic designers, interpretation specialists, film makers – who together create our projects in our studio. I am immensely proud of the company, and the projects that we have worked with – and we have wonderful and supportive clients who we work with on many projects, and buy into our thinking as a collaborative process.
I work almost exclusively on exhibition and theatre projects now, whereas my husband Jim Richards heads up the building projects. Our portfolio of work spans many institutions and galleries, and I feel that I have the best job in the world – creating weaving narratives of fascinating topics. Each one is fresh and new, and allows me to learn about all sorts of fascinating things, as well as appreciate first-hand beautiful artwork and objects.
I cannot even think of a favourite project as they are all so varied. But in our recent work we have traversed from architecture, through exhibition and interpretation design, through to graphics, wayfinding and even branding, including the full interpretation of the incredible ancient burial ground at Sutton Hoo, which is currently about to be finished. This represents an experience for the visitor from the moment they arrive, going through the landscape, through buildings and new spaces to enjoy the landscape, culminating in a tower in the trees that enables you to see the burial grounds from above. We also recently completed a gallery in Norway for the National Library, where we created a home for 30 culturally important objects that tell Norway’s history, in a room crafted out of timber and photographs that we carved into the walls.
Current amazing projects include the New Wordsworth Museum and Dove Cottage in the Lake District, as well as the Courtauld Gallery in London. We love working on tiny, quick projects, as well as large multi-faceted projects that take years to complete. The variety is wonderful, and it is great to look back to near the beginning when this portrait was taken and realise how far we have come.