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South Wales Echo - - Life Style -

Chan­nel 4, Thurs­day, 8pm

GE­ORGE Clarke is in his el­e­ment. The ar­chi­tect-turned-TV-pre­sen­ter is stand­ing atop a snow­capped moun­tain in the Alpine vil­lage of Ver­bier – and by his own ac­count, he’s feel­ing “Christ­massy”.

But the Restora­tion Man star isn’t sim­ply get­ting his fes­tive fix: he’s in the Swiss re­sort to film a very spe­cial edi­tion of his hit Chan­nel 4 show, Amaz­ing Spa­ces.

Aptly ti­tled Win­ter Won­der­land, the stand­alone episode will see Clarke and mas­ter-crafts­man Will Hardie ex­plore the in­ge­nious small space won­ders hid­den away among the snowy peaks of the Swiss and Ital­ian Alps.

Start­ing their epic road trip from an ob­ser­va­tion point 4,000m above sea level, the duo will set out on an ad­ven­ture which takes in a se­cret ski lodge dis­guised as a boul­der, a tree house re­sem­bling a gi­ant acorn, a tra­di­tional cabin made al­most en­tirely from con­crete, a breath­tak­ing moun­tain­top ho­tel which glows in the dark and a star-gaz­ing hide­away which ro­tates with the night sky.

“Even just be­ing here, film­ing, re­ally does get you in that fes­tive mood,” quips Ge­orge, 44.

“We’ve done Nor­way, we’ve done Canada, we’ve done some far-flung places [be­fore], and you for­get what’s right on our doorstep,” he sug­gests.

“I have to say the views here have just been ab­so­lutely breath­tak­ing. You can imag­ine some of the drone shots we’ve got; it looks filmic, it looks epic, it looks snowy, it looks alpine...”

How has he en­joyed switch­ing up the cli­mate?

“I love it!” re­sponds the Sun­der­land na­tive. “I’m from the North East any­way, so it’s al­ways freez­ing up there! And gen­uinely I am a moun­tain per­son.

“I go up to the Lake Dis­trict all the time, the West­ern Isles of Scot­land, the High­lands...” he lists. “It makes you feel fresh, the air’s cleaner, and I love walk­ing and I love climb­ing.

“So to be able to see Amaz­ing Spa­ces’ projects when there’s a lovely di­a­logue be­tween great de­sign and beau­ti­ful land­scapes, it’s a fan­tas­tic com­bi­na­tion.”

And from the UK to Europe, there’s cer­tainly been no short­age of in­spir­ing builds to span seven sea­sons of the show – plus sea­sonal spe­cials.

“Ev­ery year that I think we’ve vir­tu­ally done ev­ery­thing, a whole other batch of projects come up again!” de­clares Ge­orge.

“Peo­ple are build­ing all the time any­way, so ev­ery year there are new projects be­ing cre­ated, and I’m gen­uinely blown away by peo­ple’s in­ven­tive­ness and cre­ativ­ity.

“I think that’s what’s unique about small spa­ces,” he of­fers. “If it’s small and it’s some­thing that’s just fun, it’s eas­ier to do. And it doesn’t nec­es­sar­ily cost the earth ei­ther.”

It’s about “mak­ing ar­chi­tec­ture and de­sign, par­tic­u­larly home de­sign, as ac­ces­si­ble to as many peo­ple as pos­si­ble”, he main­tains.

“Ar­chi­tec­ture and de­sign can be quite a se­ri­ous sub­ject and I even think that the ar­chi­tec­tural pro­fes­sion takes it­self a bit too se­ri­ously some­times,” con­fesses Ge­orge, who is the cre­ative di­rec­tor of Lon­don­based de­sign and build com­pany, Ge­orge Clarke + Partners.

“Don’t get me wrong, I still teach ar­chi­tec­ture and when you’re teach­ing things like the his­tory and the­ory of ar­chi­tec­ture, they can be quite deep sub­jects,” he shares.

“But one of the things I am most proud about with Amaz­ing Spa­ces is I get a huge amount of school teach­ers, say­ing, ‘Do you mind if we run an Amaz­ing Spa­ces school pro­ject?’ And I’m like, ‘Go for it!’

“If I can in­spire young kids to de­sign a lit­tle house at the bot­tom of their gar­den or re­design their bed­room or de­sign their dream home, that’s all fan­tas­tic stuff,” con­cludes Ge­orge, who also hosts the bril­liant Old House, New Home. “To me, the two most im­por­tant things in my in­dus­try – I’m not just talk­ing about tele­vi­sion, I’m talk­ing about be­ing an ar­chi­tect and a de­signer – are in­no­va­tion and ed­u­ca­tion.

“They al­low young peo­ple to be ed­u­cated in some re­ally ex­cit­ing things,” he states. “I fell in love with [de­sign] when I was a kid.”

He re­calls the first se­ries of Amaz­ing Spa­ces, in which he con­verted an old static car­a­van into a spe­cial place for him and his three chil­dren – two sons and one daugh­ter – to en­joy. That was 2012 and we’ve still got that to­day!” he says with joy.

“My kids love stay­ing in my car­a­van more than they love stay­ing in a posh ho­tel, be­cause it’s more fun. And I want de­sign to be fun and ex­cit­ing and in­no­va­tive and push the bound­aries of cre­ative think­ing,” he rea­sons.

“Think: How can we do some­thing dif­fer­ently?”

As for the fame that comes with be­ing on screen, Ge­orge has mixed feel­ings.

“I’m in a very priv­i­leged po­si­tion, and I feel thank­ful ev­ery day with the ca­reer that I’ve got,” he an­swers.

He fol­lows: “Yes it’s tele­vi­sion, but all I wanted to be was an ar­chi­tect. And when I be­came an ar­chi­tect that was a dream come true. When I started my own ar­chi­tec­tural prac­tice, my own com­pany and my own de­sign agency, that was an­other dream come true.

“I never thought that would hap­pen,” he con­fides, ad­mit­ting the hardest part of his job is be­ing away from his chil­dren when film­ing.

“If I’m hon­est, any­thing be­yond that is a bonus – and I’ve got enough mates up in the North East to make sure I keep my feet firmly on the ground!”

And the “celebrity” tag?

“I never use the ‘C’ word!” he re­torts, with a laugh.

“I don’t want to be a celebrity. I want to be a good ar­chi­tect. I want to make and craft re­ally beau­ti­ful pro­grammes that peo­ple love watch­ing,” he ex­plains.

“For me it’s work still,” he per­sists. “It’s my job; I get up ev­ery morn­ing, I go to work, I do pieces to cam­era, meet peo­ple, sketch and de­sign.

“It’s the process of mak­ing: I make build­ings, I make tele­vi­sion. It’s that kind of de­signer-maker thing that’s consistent with me,” rea­sons Ge­orge, whose next TV ven­ture, Ge­orge Clarke’s 100 Years of Bri­tish Homes, will mark the cen­te­nary of the na­tion’s coun­cil house move­ment.

“So the thought of be­ing a celebrity just makes me feel a bit ill.”

Ge­orge Clarke takes stock of the amaz­ing view from the Alps

Ge­orge in the con­crete cabin

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