Hugh Casson

Sir Hugh Maxwell Casson CH KCVO PRA RDI (23 May 1910 – 15 August 1999) was a British architect.[1][2] He was also active as an interior designer, as an artist, and as a writer and broadcaster on twentieth-century design. He was the director of architecture for the Festival of Britain on the South Bank in 1951. From 1976 to 1984 he was president of the Royal Academy.[2]

Sir Hugh Casson
Hugh Maxwell Casson.jpg
Casson in his office, early 1950s; vintage bromide print by John Gay, from the photograph collection of the National Portrait Gallery
Hugh Maxwell Casson

(1910-05-23)23 May 1910
Hampstead, London
Died15 August 1999(1999-08-15) (aged 89)
Chelsea, London
Known forarchitect
Spouse(s)Margaret Casson
AwardsAlbert Medal, 1984
ElectedPresident of the Royal Academy, 1975


Casson was the nephew of actor, Sir Lewis Casson. Casson studied at Eastbourne College in East Sussex, then St John's College, Cambridge (1929–31), after which he spent time at the Bartlett School of Architecture in London.


Before the Second World War, he divided his time between teaching at the Cambridge School of Architecture and working in the London office of his Cambridge tutor, Christopher (Kit) Nicholson. He wrote the book New Sights of London in 1938 for London Transport, championing modern architecture within reach of London, while remaining critical of the UK's track record in innovative building.[3] "He does not mince his words", commented the Architect and Building News on the cover.[citation needed] During the war, he worked in the Camouflage Service of the Air Ministry.[4]

Casson was appointed to his role as director of architecture of the Festival of Britain in 1948 at the age of 38,[5] and set out to celebrate peace and modernity through the appointment of other young architects. For example, the Modernist design of the Royal Festival Hall was led by a 39-year-old, Leslie Martin. Casson's Festival achievements led to his being made a (Knight Bachelor) in 1952.

After the war, and alongside his Festival work, Casson went into partnership with young architect Neville Conder. Their projects included corporate headquarters buildings, university campuses, the Elephant House at London Zoo, a building for the Royal College of Art (where Casson was Professor of Interior Design from 1955 to 1975, and later served as Provost), the Microbiology Building (Belfast), and the master planning and design of the Sidgwick Avenue arts faculty buildings for the University of Cambridge, including the Austin Robinson Building which houses the Faculty of Economics as well as the Marshall Library of Economics. This latter project lasted some 30 years.

He was friends with members of the royal family, and reportedly taught watercolour painting to Prince Charles.[6] In 1955 he designed the interiors for the royal yacht Britannia;[2] he also designed interiors for suites at Buckingham Palace and at Windsor Castle.[7]

From 1953 to 1975 he was professor of environmental design at the Royal College of Art, where his wife Margaret was senior tutor.[1][8]

In the 1980s Casson became a television presenter, with his own series, Personal Pleasures with Sir Hugh Casson, about stately homes and places he enjoyed.

Casson supplied watercolour illustrations for a new edition of Sir John Betjeman's verse autobiography Summoned by Bells (1960); The Illustrated "Summoned by Bells" was published by John Murray in 1989.[9]


After his work for the Festival of Britain, Casson was knighted in the New Year Honours of 1952.[4] He was made a Knight Commander of the Royal Victorian Order in 1978,[4] and a Companion of Honour in 1985.[10]

He was elected an associate member of the Royal Academy in 1962, and a full member in 1970. He was treasurer in 1975–1976, and president from 1976 to 1984.[11] During the Summer Exhibition the academy awards an annual Hugh Casson Drawing Prize "for an original work on paper in any medium, where the emphasis is clearly on drawing",[12] and a room in the Keeper's House is named after him.[13]

Private Eye magazine gives the Sir Hugh Casson Award for the "Worst New Building of the Year".[citation needed]

An archive of his papers is held by the Victoria & Albert Museum.[14]


  1. ^ a b Alan Powers (2004). Casson, Sir Hugh Maxwell (1910–1999). Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (online edition). Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/72656. (subscription required).
  2. ^ a b c Alan Powers (2003). Casson, Sir Hugh (Maxwell). Grove Art Online. Oxford: Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/gao/9781884446054.article.T014611. (subscription required).
  3. ^ Hugh Casson (1938). New Sights Of London. London: London Passenger Transport Board.
  4. ^ a b c Lionel Esher. Obituaries: Sir Hugh Casson. The Independent, 17 August 1999. Accessed March 2012.
  5. ^ Sir Hugh Casson, CH KCVO PRA RDI RIBA FSIAD, architect... painter... author, 1910 – 1999. Sir Hugh Casson Ltd. Accessed March 2012.
  6. ^ P.D. (1999). Hugh Casson 1910-1999. Architectural Review. 206 (1232): 37. (subscription required).
  7. ^ Neil Bingham (2016). Hugh Casson 1910-1999 Margaret Casson 1913-1999. Architectural Review, May 2016: 83. (subscription required).
  8. ^ National Life Stories, 'Casson, Hugh (1 of 2) National Life Stories Collection: Architects' Lives', The British Library Board, 1991. Retrieved 10 April 2018
  9. ^ John Betjeman, Sir Hugh Casson (ill.) (1989) The Illustrated "Summoned by Bells". London: John Murray, ISBN 0719546966.
  10. ^ Supplement to the London Gazette 31 December 1984. The London Gazette 49969: 18. Accessed March 2012.
  11. ^ Sir Hugh Casson PRA (1910–1999). London: Royal Academy of Arts. Archived 6 March 2021.
  12. ^ "Prizes". London: Royal Academy of Arts. Archived 3 June 2015.
  13. ^ The Keeper's House. London: Royal Academy of Arts. Archived 4 August 2021.
  14. ^ Archives of Sir Hugh Casson and Margaret Macdonald Casson. London: Victoria and Albert Museum. Archived 17 September 2009.
Cultural offices
Preceded by
Sir Thomas Monnington
President of the Royal Academy
Succeeded by
Roger de Grey