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Obituary: Nicholas Hare, 1942-2024, founder of Nicholas Hare Architects

Carol Lelliott

Designer, teacher and critic whose curious and challenging approach and belief in close client consultation led to NHA’s specialisation in buildings for education

Nicholas Hare, founding partner of Nicholas Hare Architects and for many years an inspiring teacher at the School of Architecture in Cambridge, has died aged 81.

Nick came late to architecture having studied natural sciences and English at Corpus Christi, Cambridge. Before uprooting his young family to take up his place at Liverpool School of Architecture he worked as a TLS sub-editor and for Jarrold’s, the printers. This love of the precisely expressed word never deserted him and informed the articulacy of his design.

So too did his science background, and his first architectural job was for the multi-disciplinary Arup Associates. He admired its rational approach to design and especially enjoyed working alongside engineers. Many became lifelong friends.

He took this delight in construction to his students at Cambridge. Nick was a gifted teacher able to develop the best in all who worked with him. His ability to identify the key issue in a problematic design served him well as teacher and critic. He spent 17 years as consultant architect to the University of Essex and acted as external examiner at many architecture schools. His favourite was the Caribbean School, where he enjoyed the cigars as much as the student work.


  • Brunei Gallery, SOAS, University of London (1995).
    Brunei Gallery, SOAS, University of London (1995). Credit: Martin Charles / RIBA Library Photographs Collection
  • Brunei Gallery, SOAS, University of London (1995).
    Brunei Gallery, SOAS, University of London (1995). Credit: Martin Charles / RIBA Library Photographs Collection
  • Sculpture at Glyndebourne by Nicholas Hare.
    Sculpture at Glyndebourne by Nicholas Hare. Credit: Nicholas Hare

Nick started NHA from the attic of his Highbury house and his first public success was the design for the Paris Opera Bastille. Although it didn’t win, NHA was the only British practice to be shortlisted and the publicity put it on the map and the prize money allowed it to relocate. Although we missed tea around the kitchen table, a business address and a growing reputation meant more client commissions. Sophie, Nick’s wife, became the heart of the admin team and the NHA extended family. That culture never changed.

Subsequently, the practice was shortlisted for the redevelopment of Covent Garden but its first significant arts building was the Brunei Gallery for SOAS. Creating a tree-lined pedestrian thoroughfare and constructing a gallery for Islamic art alongside extensive teaching facilities in the heart of Georgian London, the project was both demanding and controversial. Its challenges enabled Nick to develop his personal architectural philosophy.

He was always sensitive to a project’s context, both physically, but also emotionally in the aspirations of the client. He was an early champion of passive design with a particular fascination for natural light. Expressing the nature of materials, like the massive external brickwork walls and flat arches of the SOAS gallery’s brick and concrete vaults, was a key design driver. He advocated exploring the design in the imagination to achieve an intuitive spatial clarity and sensory delight, calling this the importance of orientation. Critics often found it difficult to identify an NHA style because projects appeared quite different but all shared these fundamental principles.

  • Royal Opera House Production Workshop, Thurrock (2010).
    Royal Opera House Production Workshop, Thurrock (2010). Credit: Hufton and Crow
  • Glyndebourne Production Hub, Lewes (2019).
    Glyndebourne Production Hub, Lewes (2019). Credit: Graham Carlow, Glyndebourne Productions
  • Student Services Centre, University of Southampton (2005).
    Student Services Centre, University of Southampton (2005). Credit: Martin Charles

Nick believed good architects could and should tackle any project, always encouraging us to think from first principles. He favoured a curious and continually challenging approach founded upon close client consultation that produced innovative and exciting architecture. This approach dovetailed with the aspirations of the Blair government’s Building Schools for the Future programme, and ironically led to NHA becoming education specialists.

Nick’s fascination for structures, sustainability and natural light was celebrated in the design of a new production workshop for the Royal Opera House at Thurrock. A vaulted green-roofed structure spans a light filled shed enabling the construction of fully assembled scenery. ‘Dedicated to light and the craft of making’, said the RIBA Awards judges, but the same could have been said about the architect.

Nick retired in 2018 after more than 40 years leading NHA. Still brimming with enthusiasm he set about a new career experimenting with large-scale sculpture.

Carol Lelliott is a former partner at Nicholas Hare Architects and a consultant to the practice