Architecture is the spatial framework within which we live, first conceived in the human mind before becoming a reality. It provides a physical reference to our cultural past and, at the point of conception, both expresses and gives us confidence to imagine a better future. Once built, it exists in an ever-changing cultural, political and social environment over which the architect has no control.
Beyond utility and aesthetics, built architecture has a metaphysical role – it shapes the emotions and behaviours of those who will live with it. A metaphysical inquiry into the nature of space, structure and light is essential to envisage architecture that will lift the human spirit. When the elements of this trinity are in harmony, a tangible sense of wholeness and serenity imbues an architecture that is able to touch the mind through the observer’s senses. Designing with the mind in mind is a direct route to our inner nature.
Through an increasingly refined understanding of how the human mind works, our practice is able to deliver this metaphysical aspect of architecture in conjunction with its existential quality, expressed through the sensory qualities of our designs.
We have delivered monumentality with the Leipzig Glass Hall by bringing the arc of the transparent sky to earth, and we have also achieved it by drawing a line of solid, diffused light between earth and sky with the Spire of Dublin. We combined the intimate with the epic in the Royal Academy of Music’s new opera-theatre, and we integrated spatial and servicing adaptability with a deep understanding of the needs of scientists for the Sainsbury Wellcome Centre for Neural Networks and Behaviour, while wrapping the building in translucent white light.
Architecture makes the existential tangible, and our sense of place is both a response to our physical environment and a cultural creation. As it is constructed, experienced, and ultimately deconstructed, architecture has the unique potential to inform and enable us to reflect upon our understanding of what makes us human.
There is no universal formula for accomplishing architecture which reveals values beyond the superficial, which is why our practice is not constrained by a ‘signature’ style. Part of the ethos underlying our practice is that we regard each project as unique, and consider each as such with respect to its site, the client, its socio-political-cultural context, and the potential strengths, skills and creative imaginations of all the individuals collaborating on the project.
We have extended our ethos into the next generation by establishing a uniquely symbiotic network of architectural studios which share our values and cooperative working methodologies. Each studio is autonomous, yet all are able to link with any other within the network to share resources and permit flexible and intelligent responses to circumstances and opportunities. It is called Ritchie Net.
Plato’s notion of poïesis implies, in the collaborative process of making or creating the beautiful, a movement beyond the common cycle of birth and decay. In the transition of every project from concept to reality, we feel there is just such an opportunity for transcendence through innovative thought and technique.
As a consequence, our architecture often appears to sidestep convention by refusing to conform to transient design doctrines or preoccupations.
The cultural richness of human mankind lies in its metaphorical intelligence, its sources of energy and inspiration. The democratic value of progress can only have a long-term life when it grafts itself onto the strong metaphorical stem of the human spirit – individually and collectively, our practice has always designed architecture to encourage and sustain this strength.