Nissen Richards Studio appointed to design Clarks Museum

The museum will seek to tell the story of British shoe manufacturer and retailer Clarks, delving into its origins and the evolution of its marketing and manufacturing processes.

Nissen Richards Studio has been appointed to lead the design and interpretation of the new Clarks Museum, which is due to open around the company’s 200th anniversary in 2025.

The project entails designing the content, visitor experience and permanent exhibition for the museum, which will showcase the collection of historic artefacts and archives associated with the British shoe manufacturer and retailer. After a competitive tender, the studio was appointed in April by Alfred Gillett Trust, a charitable organisation set up to safeguard and preserve the collection and archives of the Clark family and C & J Clark Ltd.

Renders of what the museum might look like upon completion

The museum will be located in Street, a village near Glastonbury where Clarks first began and where the Trust is also based.

The tender process involved proposing an approach to the project as well as presenting the studio’s previous work, according to Nissen Richards director Pippa Nissen. She says that the project stood out to the team because of the “balance of historical and new” and the “social history” attached to the Clarks, adding that it “chimes with what [the team] enjoy doing”.

Since winning the project, Nissen Richards has started to work on the stories behind the interpretation design. Nissen says the studio intends to “cast the net wide” and find a balance of stories relating to Street’s local community and the wider Clarks community.

“The nostalgia around Clarks is a really shared feeling. Everyone in the studio has got a Clarks story, and most people’s first school shoes tend to be Clarks,” she says. The museum will also seek to highlight that, although people tend to think of Clarks as “a very British thing”, it is an international retailer, Nissen adds.

The studio is keen for there to be a combination of “bigger, immersive moments” and “more intimate settings”, says Nissen. She adds that there will likely be some “mass displays of shoes” to demonstrate how styles have changed over the time that Clarks has been manufacturing.

The museum will be made up of three main gallery spaces each exploring a different theme. One will focus on Street and its relevance to Clarks’ origin story, celebrating “the social history of the place and the company”. Another will look at the design and making of the shoes featuring retired machinery to aid “the storytelling of the manufacturing of classic shoes” says Nissen Richards head of interpretation and engagement Elin Simonsson. The final space will centre around selling and buying and how Clarks has interacted with consumers, displaying examples of posters and marketing used by Clarks , seeking to reflect how its strategies shifted with society.

Though the museum will be thematic in structure, Nissen says the studio is also planning some chronological elements, such as “the recreation of shops from the 1920s, 50s and 80s”.
Over the next few months Nissen Richards will focus on designing the immersive aspects of the museum. Nissen explains that the studio has “an appetite to work digitally”, in order to add “more drama” to the larger spaces.

Simonsson adds that the museum will consist of “creative worlds that are immersive and scene setting to take people back to a certain time or environment”. The museum has a broad target audience of school groups, families and individuals, which means that the studio team must “think in layers” and consider how different people might take in information, says Nissen.

Nissen Richards is working closely with Purcell – the architects leading new build elements as well as managing the repurposed historic buildings – to define the size of the museum’s spaces including new build areas that will allow for “taller, more dramatic displays”, Nissen says.

The Clarks Museum project is still in its infancy and the next step is to translate the initial concept into more detailed designs.

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