Book List of the Week

Book List of the Week: Ian Ritchie

By Steve Kroeter September 29, 2014
Ian Ritchie, architect and director and founder of Ian Ritchie Architects (London). Photo: Jocelyne Van den Bossche
View Ian Ritchie’s Book List

British architect Ian Ritchie sent us 35 books that have inspired him in the course of a career that extends over 40 years. His celebrated work includes sharing the creation of the Louvre Pyramid and Sculpture Courts with I. M. Pei in Paris, the Leipzig International Exhibition Center Glass Hall in Germany, and The Spire in Dublin.

Ritchie’s recently published two-volume work on his life and work, Being: An Architect (2014, Royal Academy of Arts), includes an essay by co-author Roger Connah that explores Ritchie’s relationship to books and reading. Reprinted below, by way of introduction to the many books that have had an impact on Ritchie, are excerpts from Connah’s “The Paperback Shelf.” *

...What if we knew what books the architect read in the early years, during and after university? How does our present look back and rescript the inexperienced reading of the time; an inexperience which doubtless shaped the architect’s direction in life if not in architecture?

A major part of Ritchie’s early reading came from the well-known series of Penguin books, the sociology imprint called Pelican. In many ways this series kept up and echoed the vibrant romanticism of the New Left Book Club from the 1930s. Published when investigations into science and art were leading to reassessments of objectivity and subjectivity, the Pelican series allowed many young intellectuals in the UK to contemplate resistance. It would be an experience that later resonated with Mai 1968 in Paris and other protest movements. Many students, like Ritchie, would have seen the interdisciplinary world of science, sociology and art as offering a social democratic base to challenge capitalist democracy. Later, for Ritchie, an incapacity to rebel or dissent would not be an option.

From “The Paperback Shelf”

The question for us here, however, is more direct. Often our early reading makes up the psychic and creative energy we use in the future. We have little knowledge of how this works, yet so often we find ourselves returning to ideas we felt strongly when we were young. As we catch up with, yet remain detached from, authors who have already met similar struggle and disillusion, nothing in the demise in ourselves of revolt or protest allows us to reduce the significance of rebellion at the time. Fun may be made of the naïvety and histrionics, but nothing in the apparent failure of the protest of the 1960s and 1970s allows us to demean the seriousness or betray the thrill of this early ambiguity in architecture. To some the cult of freedom and the vague notion of transcendence deserved nothing more than denial. Yet to others, this sense of freedom was already a powerful way of thinking.

What people call the true life of the mind, a life of thought, became a narrative for Ritchie that adhered to language as much as it did to architecture. Imagination and lateral thinking could be adapted into the pragmatic and innovative logic of architecture. “There is nothing better than words,” Julia Kristeva writes, “above all words to deepen and sustain debate. If the image isn’t subservient to the word, it just reduces meaning into stereotypes.”** In architecture today, the cultured image has succeeded in suspending words. We are closer to the eventual wasted world of the spectacle than perhaps Kristeva accepts. Yet back then, in the mid-1970s, when he started out in practice, the values Ritchie took with him from his past might well be revealed within the early reading and the volumes on the paperback shelf.

* “The Paperback Shelf,” by Roger Connah, in Being: An Architect by Ian Ritchie and Roger Connah (London: Royal Academy of Arts, 2014), pp. 69–71.

** Julia Kristeva, “Revolt, She Said: An Interview by Philippe Petit,” trans. Brian O’Keeffe, ed. Sylvère Lotrigner (Los Angeles: Semiotext(e), 2002), p. 87, quoted in Connah, “The Paperback Shelf.”

View Ian Ritchie’s Book List

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