Witold Rybczynski

Critic; Academic; Writer / Architecture / United States / School of Design, University of Pennsylvania

Witold Rybczynski’s Notable Books of 2014

1 book
Critical commentary by Roger Connah

Ian Ritchie is a sometime poet as well as a gifted architect, so one would expect that his latest book, Being: An Architect, would be out of the ordinary. This beautifully-produced two-volume work (designed by James Ritchie) combines a memoir, selected writings, poems, conversations, and personal asides. The almost 600 pages also include descriptions—written and photographic—of his work, both built and unbuilt.

Ritchie belongs to the generation of British architects that immediately followed, learned from and was inspired by the two godfathers of that country’s architectural Renaissance, Norman Foster and Richard Rogers. In many ways, this book is a history of that heady period—the 1980s—when British architects emerged as the most adventurous and accomplished in the world.

In the 1980s, Ritchie co-founded an unusual engineering/design firm with engineer Peter Rice and industrial designer Martin Francis. The reader may be surprised to learn (as I was) that Rice Francis Ritchie played a key role in such iconic projects as the glazed roof of the Louvre’s Court Marly, the Cité des Sciences at La Villette, and the Opéra Bastille. Ritchie is fascinated by modern technology, especially glass. He is responsible for the giant Glass Hall in Leipzig, a latter-day Crystal Palace. But he has also built with Corten steel and gabion (caged rocks); the evocative Spire of Dublin monument is the world’s tallest stainless-steel shell structure in the world.

Ritchie does not have a signature style. What unites his buildings is consistently cutting-edge (and unexpected) techniques and materials, inventiveness, imaginatively conceived details, and an integration of architecture, engineering, and fabrication. The range of projects described in Being is impressive, not only buildings but also urban design, memorials, stadiums, bridges, subway stations, sculpture, exhibitions, desk lamps, even high-voltage electricity pylons for Electricité de France. Have a problem? Call Ritchie.

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