In 1981, Ian Ritchie established Ian Ritchie Architects (iRAL) in London while working as a consultant at Arup within Peter Rice’s Lightweight Structures Group. He and Peter Rice were also collaborating on developing Shelterspan – a lightweight aluminium frame and fabric structure subsequently used primarily for industrial and military facilities.
That same year he co-founded the design engineering practice RFR (Rice Francis Ritchie) with Peter Rice and Martin Francis. The practice combined, in a seamless working relationship, engineering, architecture and industrial design. From 1981 until 1987, Ian Ritchie divided his time between London and Paris and the two design firms: one architectural, the other engineering.
While Ian was a Director, RFR’s projects included the seminal structural glass design work at La Villette Science Cité in Paris, the Louvre Pyramids and Louvre Sculpture Courts, The Cloud at the Arche de la Défense in Paris, and the TGV-RER Station at Roissy Airport.
RFR LA CITÉ EN LUMIÈRE, LA VILLETE, PARIS
Ian Ritchie retired as a Director of RFR in 1987 in order to focus on his own architectural practice, in particular on their first major housing project, The Watergarden in Limehouse, London, but remained a consultant until 1989. He continued to work closely with Peter Rice on the Louvre projects until their completion and on iRAL projects for which Peter was leading the engineering until his untimely death in October 1992.
THE UNSEEN HAND, A DOCUMENTARY ABOUT PETER RICE featuring interviews with Richard Rogers, Renzo Piano, Ian Ritchie and others.
Ritchie’s first building – Fluy House, in France – had been completed in 1978 and was an early example of passive solar design. Eagle Rock House in southeast England, designed for the botanist Ursula Colahan, was completed in 1982, and Jean Nouvel invited Ian to exhibit its design at the first Biennale de Paris des Jeunes Artistes.
By the early 1990s iRAL had become world-renowned among built environment professionals for their glass structures, material-technical innovation and intelligent environmental and sustainable design – of which the design of the Sainsbury Wellcome Centre was a further evolution.
The practice’s range of work expanded into exhibition concepts and design, landscape, applied science, industrial R&D, and industrial design, furniture and lighting design.
iRAL completed several more projects in France through the 1990s. These included the multi-million-pound Albert Sport & Cultural Centre – also construction-managed by iRAL; the Boves Pharmacy – a wholly pre-fabricated building designed and engineered in London, and manufactured/assembled in France using only telephone and fax to manage the project; offices in Amiens; the Daours nursery and primary school, and the Terrasson Cultural Greenhouse in the Jardins de l’Imaginaire (Gardens of the Imagination) at Terrasson-Lavilledieu, in collaboration with Kathryn Gustafson
iRAL went on to realise and contribute to other major architectural works throughout Europe and the UK, including the Reina Sofia Museum of Modern Art in Madrid; the Leipzig Glass Hall; The Spire in Dublin; the Theatre Royal Production Centre in Plymouth; Bermondsey Station Jubilee Line Extension; London Regatta Centre; Scotland’s Home of Tomorrow in Glasgow; the master plan and transport infrastructure and stations at the billion pound Whitecity (Westfield) in London and the RSC Courtyard Theatre in Stratford-upon-Avon as well as its 2016 transformation into the new ‘The Other Place’ (TOP).
iRAL also collaborated with RFR and Kathryn Gustafson on the design of a new generation of high voltage EDF Pylons, of which the first were erected across the Rhône in 2000. In 2011, iRAL, with Anne Christopher RA and Jane Wernick Associates, were the top British design and laureate in the UK National Grid pylon competition.
Recent projects include the Sainsbury Wellcome Centre for Neural Circuits and Behaviour at UCL in central London, completed in 2016, with its innovative structural cast glass cladding system. In 2018 the Susie Sainsbury opera-musical theatre and Angela Burgess recital hall at the Royal Academy of Music opened to universal acclaim. Projects completed post-Covid include the 1000-seat Arkan Theatre in Cairo, improvements to the Rose Theatre, Kingston, the transformation of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, The Cyfarthfa Plan in Wales, Trident Park and The Old Brewhouse in Malta. Current projects include the Commemorative Bridge across the Liffey in Dublin, public and private bridges and sculptural enclosures in Hampshire, a R&D production shed, the Fifth Quad extension to the Sainsbury Wellcome Centre and an urban event space in Belfast, and housing.
On June 24th 2021, its 40th anniversary, Ian Ritchie Architects Ltd was renamed ritchie studio limited, and now practices under the name ritchie*studio. The shareholding in ritchie*studio reflects the commitment and talent within the practice as it continues to research, design and realise architecture. The first project to be progressed under ritchie*studio is the new Memorial Bridge over the Liffey in Dublin, which had its inaugural client meeting with the state architect Ciaran O’Connor on 23rd June 2021.
The practice’s creative design philosophy is informed by an investigative and creative approach. This is based upon its own and the client’s social, aesthetic, and ecological values, and the context and performance requirements specific to each project and landscape. During the design process ritchie*studio often collaborates with well-known artists, mathematicians, physicists, musicians and experts in other fields. The results are often innovative and always architecturally unique – ritchie*studio does not impose a recognisable ‘signature’ style on the buildings it designs.
ritchie*studio supports Ritchie Net – an international network of like-minded ‘graduates’ from our practice who now have their own architectural practices in Budapest, Hamburg, Istanbul, Katowice, Leipzig, Lisbon, Munich, Seoul and Tokyo.
Both as ritchie*studio and as iRAL, the practice has won more than 70 competitions, premiated in 40 more, and received over 100 national and international awards. These include the Iritecna Prize for Europe, Eric Lyons Memorial Award for European Housing, Commonwealth Association of Architects Award for Innovation and the Advancement of Architecture, IABSE (International Association of Bridge and Structural Engineers) Millennium Outstanding Structure Award, Premio Internazionale Ischia di Architettura Innovation Prize, two UK Millennium Product Awards, and many Civic Trust and RIBA Awards. The practice has been shortlisted for the prestigious RIBA Stirling Prize on four occasions and twice for the Mies Van der Rohe Award – European Union Prize for Contemporary Architecture.
The practice’s work has been widely published in books, reviews and journals, extensively exhibited in the UK and internationally, and has been the subject of several films.
Ian Ritchie ‘Being: An Architect‘ – Royal Academy of Arts
Publications include: (well) Connected Architecture, Ian Ritchie: Academy Editions, UK (1994) and Ernst & Sohn, Germany; The Biggest Glass Palace in the World, Ian Ritchie & Ingerid Helsing Almaas: Ellipsis, New York (1997); Ian Ritchie, Technoecologia, Alessandro Rocca: Motta, Italy (1998) and as Ian Ritchie, Technoecology, in the USA: Whitney Library of Design, New York (1999); Plymouth Theatre Royal Production Centre (2003), The Spire (2004) and The RSC Courtyard Theatre (2006): all by Ian Ritchie, Categorical Books; The Leipzig Book of Drawings (2007) and Ian Ritchie’s autobiography, Being: An Architect, (2014) published by the Royal Academy; Neural Architects, Georgina Ferry, Unicorn, (2017); Musical Architects, Unicorn, (2021) and Renewal Architects, Unicorn, (2023).