University of Southern California (Emily)



Aug '08 - Jul '09

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    4.3 :: Ian Ritchie and true "sustainability"

    Emily Kemper
    Jan 24, '09 5:27 PM EST

    This past Wednesday evening we had a "Visions & Voices" event at USC in Bovard Auditorium: a lecture by Ian Ritchie, British architect, artist, environmentalist, engineer, poet and all-around generally cool guy. Visions & Voices events tend to be large and open to the entire university, and I'm proud that we hosted an architect that thinks so far outside of the box for the larger student body to see.

    Mr. Ritchie's lecture was long, but he had a lot to cover, and he didn't actually finish. Some highlights (for me) were his brief history of climate science vs. politics, summed up nicely in one slide:

    ...and his conversation after the slide show with Frances Anderton of KCRW's show "DnA" and Los Angeles editor of Dwell magazine:

    During the Q&A session, Frances asked Ian about a statement that he made during the lecture, which essentially expressed his sentiment that he wouldn't build buildings that didn't need to be built; this amounted to a staggering amount of work that he had refused, something in the neighborhood of 640 projects, to only 40 buildings that he had, in fact, actually gotten built. This reinforced to me what is a hallmark of being an environmentally-friendly designer, much to the chagrin of many architects: the truth is, the ultimate act of building sustainably is not building anything at all.

    Ian went on to gleefully tell a story about a huge mall project that he had refused in London's west side, and unfortunately for everyone in the auditorium, the evening ended shortly after that. Fortunately for me, however, Ian came back for "Round 2" with a small group of grad students and professors in our studio the next afternoon. We talked for 2 hours; he sat next to me, uploaded his lecture on my computer and finished it! And he so loves to talk about this stuff - for a nerd like myself who enjoys talking about building and the environment and so forth, it was a great way to spend the afternoon.

    Ian let me have a copy of his lecture, from which I took a couple of photos of his "favorite" project that he's done so I can show it to you. It's the Terrasson Cultural Greenhouse, "Jardin de L'Imaginaire" in France, done by Ian Ritchie Architects, K. Gustafson, and Arup between 1992-1994.

    The building is a very simple structure of gabion walls that go from a couple of meters wide at the bottom to only a foot or so wide at the top, and the roof structure is made of glass and steel.

    The roof was actually supposed to have a system of interior shades that could be drawn in the hot summer sun, but the client apparently took a while to install them.

    So there you have it. I feel lucky to have gotten to spend an afternoon talking to Mr. Ritchie about his work. And no, I don't have any pictures proving that he sat next to me and talked to us for 2 hours but I didn't want to be creepy! You'll just have to take my word for it. :o)

    PS. I just found out that people actually read my blog, so I wanted to give a big shout out to Zelda and Eric at the Architectural Guild! Thanks for stopping by!


    • for everybody that wasn't there or able to get a personalized copy of the USC lecture, many of Ian's writings and lectures are available to download

      Jan 24, 09 8:38 pm  · 

      i am not sure if the statement about Ian's refusing a huge mall project on London's west side is quite accurate.

      unless it is a different project, i assume he would be referring to the White City Shopping Centre. in fact, Ian participated significantly in the design of the project, but withdrew when the developer changed.

      as stated on his own web-site:
      "In October 2005, Westfield, Multiplex and Ian Ritchie Architects Ltd agreed the following Press statement:
      “As a result of changes in the ownership of The White City project, Ian Ritchie Architects Ltd are no longer involved with the main scheme of retail and leisure. They are continuing as architects for most of the new public transport elements and some external works of the White City project.”

      "Ian Ritchie Architects were commissioned by Chelsfield PLC in December 1997 to reconceive a Master Plan and Architecture for the urban regeneration of approximately 19 hectares at White City, London, as a local and regional shopping and leisure destination together with the creation of new public transport interchanges for west London."

      so, Ian was quite deeply involved in the project at the beginning, but when Westfield took over from Multiplex as the developer, they wanted many changes to aspects of Ian's design and it was then that he distanced himself from the project.

      my purpose in noting this is just to show that it is rarely as clear and plain cut about how architects have to deal with the commercial realization of large retail projects. i think Ian is a very good architect and he doesn't get enough recognition for his innovative designs.

      Jan 26, 09 6:27 am  · 

      dlb, you are correct. I chose not to get into the details quite as much so as not to misspeak, but Ian seemed to be citing this instance specifically because it was a major project, and I got the impression that Westfield was trying to use him to "sail through" permitting. He wasn't really all about this however! Which is why he walked away. Thanks for the clarification.

      Jan 26, 09 4:46 pm  · 

      If Rodger Sherwood is still there he is a great source on sustainability as well a housing prototypes..

      I took his course at USC in the summer of 1991. Not much has changed since then. A little more efficient solar cells but not much else.

      Jan 26, 09 9:48 pm  · 

      Not only Roger, but how about Ralph Knowles? And Melica Dedijer taught this too, and even built a way-cool house in Venice to put her money where her mouth was/is (along with Glen Small of SCI-Arc).

      Nobody was using the holy S-word (sustainability, not sh**) back then, but ideas about conservation and environmental stewardship were certainly part of the discourse at USC from at least the mid 70s if not earlier.

      If they'd had better press agents, they might've made the lecture circuit themselves.

      Jan 27, 09 4:16 pm  · 

      I think papa Knowles retired in the mid 90's. I loved playing w/ his helioshphere even though I was not in his classes. I think solar orientation all the time.

      learned a lot about systems including trome walls from mark shiller and efficent structure / local renewable materials from Ambrose.

      Fight on!

      Jan 27, 09 8:31 pm  · 

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