[1] Ian Ritchie RA, Cultural Greenhouse, Les Jardins de l'Imaginaire, Terrasson-Lavilledieu, Dordogne, France, 2001. Photo: R.A./Prudence Cuming Associates Limited © The Artist

Object of the Month - June 2017


Ian Ritchie RA's Diploma Work

Upon election to the Royal Academy, artists and architects have to give a work to the collection, known as their Diploma Work. Architect Ian Ritchie RA, who turns 70 this month, is unique in presenting an evolving Diploma Work, which he adds to over time. He has given a series of prints and poems, most of which are associated with his architectural projects. Each scheme is represented in three ways: an etching, a handwritten poem and a sheet with text and images explaining the project. Ritchie's Diploma Work currently represents over 60 projects. The schemes span his first building; from Fluy House in France built in 1978 to recent projects including the Royal Academy of Music, which is scheduled to be completed this year.

The minimal, almost calligraphic etching Cultural Greenhouse Terrasson represents Ritchie's project designed in 1992 and completed in 1996 for Les Jardins de l'Imaginaire in France [1]. He was informed by the incline of the site so the greenhouse appears to lean against the hill in a sleek curve as represented in the print. The flat, glass roof was intended to reflect the trees and the skies, subtly blending the structure into its surroundings.

Unlike many architects who develop their ideas visually through sketching, Ritchie develops his ideas through language first- often by writing poetry. After the poem, Ritchie translates his ideas into sketches and then by drawing directly onto a copper plate to make an etching. As the prints and poetry come before the architectural design many unrealised architectural ideas are captured. Dreaming of a Project is the title of a print and a poem that relate to Ritchie's design for the University of London's Sainsbury Wellcome Centre for Neural Circuits and Behaviour. In a seemingly random pattern, Ritchie visually represents the complexity of brain cells, a complexity he conveys through word in his poem: 'To be able to read our reality/requires a reference - our dreams - /and some of our dreams question reality is reality'.

Dreaming of a Project

As the banks crashed
the fishing began.
We watched fish fly,
new born lambs jump
and architects worry
about the next job.

Are architects magicians?
Bankers manipulated
and spirited away
immense substance,
but above all,
loyalty and trust.

What do magicians do?
The science of magic?
As neuroscientists
Research the mind
Magicians play with it.
Do they misdirect us?
Divert our attention,
blind us temporarily?
Do they fill the gaps?
Fill in the margins between
the frames of a film?
Our eyes see, but not the film
We see wheels go backwards
because we snap the world.
We imagine, we fill in.

And then there is memory.
Under which cup is the ball?
What card did I pick?
Ah, the magician has secrets!
The illusion of free will
And as snow with the bankers
We trust not the magician?

Architects are not magicians.
They are dreamers.
My architecture starts
in the spaces I create in my mind.
Space is in here and out there, it is a continuum between
inside and outside, mental and physical.

Architecture has two distinct phases:
the mental dream and reality's nightmare.
Being an optimist I know
that the dream is always there,
like the sunshine behind the darkest cloud
and the snowflakes in the rain.

We can imagine two futures,
the one we dream of
and the one left to fate.
Or, we can imagine our future,
the one we dream of
and the one we left to fate.

To be able to read our reality
requires a reference - our dreams -
and some of our dreams question reality is reality.
Now I am designing with the mind in mind.
Dreams? I try to build mine.
Without the nightmares.

©Ian Ritchie 2009