Ian Ritchie Architects

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Landscape is inspirational.

Whether untouched by man, or tamed and exploited, the poetry of landscape endures.

Even with the technological culture of the last couple of centuries, when the despoiling of the landscape seemed to pass without concern, there remained those with an enthusiasm for its protection and representation.

The significance of the land art movement of the sixties lay not in depicting landscape but engaging and manipulating it directly. It was not just a matter of escaping the straightjacket of the gallery.

Artists, such as Walter de Maria and Robert Smithson, clearly captured the spirit of the social movements of the early sixties, although both exploited technology to create their most significant works.

The modernity of their work had a dramatic influence upon landscape design. Land movement and land art became synonymous with contemporary landscape. Landscape was central to our work from the beginning, and it is possible to trace the influence of art earthworks through to landscape acting as the conceptual trigger for some of our projects.


The desire of the client for a traditional wine cellar, the planning authority condition that “the house was not visible from the road”, and the financial constraints of this project combined to inform not only the design, but also the construction process. The design rules were to create privacy, warm colours in the landscape should move towards the house with the onset of winter, and no importation of soil.

The fact that the house was entirely glazed meant that the quality of the landscape was critically important.

The rich top soil, for more than 30 years part of a pig and free range chicken pasture, and the excavated earth for the cellar were redistributed as folds in the landscape to create a series of identifiable spaces.

The detailed landscape design and its construction was undertaken by two landscape students from Gloucester.


The design of this house – a metaphor based upon a bird and a nest – contrasts rather than dissolves in the landscape, yet allows a fluidity of spatial movement between the outside and the inside. The existing landscape was, and remains a rich texture of changing light, of topography, trees and plants. A full tree survey was undertaken before the design was finalised and submitted for planning permission.

Similar to the experience of obtaining planning permission in France for the Fluy House, the fact that this house was not visible from neighbouring properties was considered critical in allowing it to be built.

The building was carefully placed within the site to allow the existing clearing to become the centre of the landscape. After permission was granted, the client insisted on changing the colour of the structure from black, red and silver to a colour that would camouflage the house. This compromised the design intent. The client invested in the landscape with unusual species, and to an extent the roughness of the landscape was tamed.


The design was inspired and determined by its landscape context and the desire to launch replica boats. Opposite the site, to the south across the river Thames lies the Royal Naval College, behind which is Greenwich Park. This park was designed by Le Notre, who, it is alleged, when visiting the completed park for the first time, was astonished to see that there was hill overlooking the river.

The site of the proposed museum is called Island Gardens. It used to be owned by the Royal Naval College, and was given to the local authority in about 1900. This explains why there are two distinct groups of Plane trees – one dating from 1900, and the others much older. We believed that it was important to extend the existing park, and at the same time to give the museum a focus to the river. The design is about land movement – suggesting a link across the river – and its form resulting from the idea of amphitheatre, and of the north riverbank being pushed up with economic assistance from the coins being skimmed across the river from the south.


Central to the concept for this high-density housing scheme was the idea of a secret garden or haven within the city. We involved our client, Mr Roy Sandhu, in a dialogue about the meaning of Indian and Moorish landscapes, and how best to interpret notions of white and black water as structural elements of the landscape. One important piece of the composition was the introduction of water cascades either side of the entrance steps. This immediately changes the emotional and acoustic character of the threshold environment, and conveys a sense of generosity. The limited palette of moving and still water, light stone and foliage of different types of bamboos produced a calm, intimate courtyard garden.

HERNE 1991

Our initial approach to this project was to investigate and make proposals for the recovery of an industrially polluted landscape. Current thinking at the time offered to scenarios. Remove the polluted material by scraping off the top metre or so, or, capping the land with clay. We were concerned that neither scenario was necessarily suitable for such a large site.

The architectural concept was developed from an understanding of the geology of the site. We were given permission by the competition organisers to invite the geologist who knew the most about the site, the area, and the nature of the industrial processes that had taken place to a round table discussion with us. We concluded that the complex issues of methane venting, heavy metal pollution, water run-off and containment, the uneconomic and environmentally damaging activity of removing site material, and the fact that a number of local people had begun to appropriate parts of the site for allotments suggested a more incremental strategy.

The other key idea was to link Herne with Sodingen by means of a new landscaped valley that would also create the infrastructure for the academy. This landscaped valley would also be the mechanism to begin answering the ecological issues. A full description of this project appeared in(well) Connected Architecure, published by Academy and Ernst and Sohn.


The steep slope, orientation of the site and the modernity of the overall landscape design proposals of Kathryn Gustafson defined the context. The decision to use gabion seemed a sensible retention system for the new landscape and allowed the stone element building to define its modernity. We had seen many different types of stone construction in Terrasson, the heart of which is a national conservation area, including new precisely cut stoen walls. Since we were looking to harmonise the greenhouse with the landscape, it seemed appropriate to use gabion for the energy absorbing mass of the greenhouse walls.

Other gabion-type constructions were also considered, such as earth and textile walls. However, the transformation of gabion walls over time was attractive and sympathetic to the landscape. The contrast of these walls with the glass roof – which is tangible metaphor for a lake – juxtaposes the technical extremes of construction, embodied and processed energy.


The name Crystal Palace evokes memories of one of the greatest structures ever erected anywhere in the world. At the turn of the last century, the Crystal Palace became renowned for public concerts held within the space which were considered to be of the highest quality. In the middle of the 20th century open air concerts became popular in the English landscape garden area of the park, and continued until 1987. The London Borough of Bromley’s permanent concert platform is part of the rejuvenation of the entire Crystal Palace. Design competitions were held for the landscape of the entire park, and for a new glass structure enclosing leisure facilities on the site where the Crystal Palace stood.

The renaissance of public parks will do much social good for all members of the public if parks provide the diversity of facilities and atmosphere which people seek from them. Destructive vandalism should be reduced, social discourse and sense of community and sharing should increase, appreciation of the natural world and our place in it should improve through the parks’ educational role.

Enabling local people/businesses to “appropriate” their park, while being aware of the park’s wider context and role, should be an aim. If this can happen, then care and concern for its well being will follow. The Crystal Palace Park is visited by and by people who are not local. The proposed concert platform is a destination venue for both local and non-local people.

The essence of this project is the visual relationship between the beauty of the garden landscape and the design of the concert platform. The visual success of the project will be measured by the harmony between the two and maintaining the landscape poetry of this area.

A choice existed between an approach which was neo-classical, one which sought to conjure up notions of Paxton’s genius with glass construction, and one which was a contemporary response to an understanding of our own time and culture. There is no doubt that the acoustic reflector-canopy is the most intrusive element inserted in this landscape, and its scale will responded directly to the anticipated maximum number of musicians performing together – in the order of 120.

The concert platform exists in two states:- empty – as part of the landscape and silent, and full – with orchestra and performers, colour, sound and an audience of several thousand. There exists a third state. The child who cannot resist the desire to go onto the stage and perform.

Colour is a fundamental ingredient to the concept. Traditionally, built structures in the English landscape garden are off-white, derived from the natural colour of the stone used in their construction. Their forms were usually neoclassical. Open structures in the Victorian era were often cast iron, painted black, grey, green and sometimes white. White, we believe is an unnatural colour in the landscape, creating too much of a contrast and drawing too much attention.

Modernity has, perhaps, yet to establish a colour in relation to landscape. Our view is that earth colours and the changing colour of water with the southern English sky are clues to finding them.

Gravitas & Levitas is an issue which also has to be understood in landscape, and our contemporary understanding of how we build, and are seen to build in and with landscape will reveal our concern and appreciation of it. In this context, traditional neoclassical buildings in parks have gravitas – in the sense that they are both firmly anchored to the ground and their materiality expresses mass. In contrast, Victorian structures (Gothic rather than classical) tended more to lightness.

Our view is that the concert platform must express gravitas (permanence), but also express levitas in the manner in which it meets the ground.

Complexity & Simplicity are ideas which concern us. The English romantic landscapes sought to replicate nature, and in this sense they can be seen as complex. Much recent contemporary landscape, particularly in Europe has become much more geometric and simple.

We consider that the setting here is complex, and perhaps a simple structure is more appropriate, not as a contrast, but to be seen as a minimal intervention.

Our concept was based upon achieving : –

Natural colour
Gravitas expressed through the nature of the material
Levitas in the manner of touching the ground
Simplicity through minimal expression and material

The platform stage is oak, slowly become silver. The acoustic and weather protection shell is an inclined plane of Corten A steel plate, creating a naturally coloured backdrop which darkens over time. The steel plate accommodation enclosure is located behind the shell, a counterpoise to the steel plate.

The lake is extended south – the concert platform composition appears to float.


What is a habitable or inhabited bridge?

“The common denominator seems to be the combination of a bridge and one or more other functions.”

“In other words, it is not just a matter of “inhabited bridge” typology, but rather, a willingness to consider that the bridge itself accepts a number of functions and added meanings.”

“….the inhabited bridge appears as a strong element in the urban image: a site for collective activities but also as an important instrument for the reorganisation strategies of the city’s central areas”

“The question mark here concerns the revival, in several contemporary projectual hypotheses, of the typology or at least the idea of the inhabited bridge; this occurs without any urban strategies that on a level of actual productive or economic impetus would justify the return of such a phenomenon.”

“we could say that the present revival of the inhabited bridge has in the first place a metaphorical value; it is a sign, or is evoked as such, which refers to something else, whether this consists of the representation of an order-generating rule, a nostalgic recovery of lost urban values, or even the extreme attempt to contrast an architectural idea being indifferent to its surroundings.”

This bridge is a destination and a crossing, and would serve all Londoners and those who come here as visitors. It is first and foremost a public environment. The drama of being in the middle of the river, in one of the world’s great cities should offer a unique awareness and perspective of London and the Thames. It is the river, the panorama of London and one’s central place in it that would make this bridge special – the world of finance to the east and political power to the west.

The context is about being somewhere unique in London, with the facility of moving comfortably and enjoyably from one side of the river to the other in different weathers, at different levels and by different routes, lingering on the way, meeting people, or enjoying its facilities. The design was influenced by the backdrop of the cityscape rather than topography, and by what it would be connecting and serving.

Our design approach synthesised urbanism, architecture, engineering, and landscape with public activities into a harmonious whole. We believe it was unnecessary to indulge in loud techno-engineering gymnastics, or permit overt or manifest commercialism.

The landscaped surface of the bridge would provide places to relax and enjoy the spectacular views, and spaces to play. From a plant selection viewpoint, the climate was considered to be similar to a mild seaside location.

The Green Horizon line of the bridge would be seen from both embankments, as well as from boats. The landscape of this symbolic green horizon, would have to be particularly resistant to the wind, of low maintenance and also be tactile, since its top would at the handrail height of the promenade. Suggested plants included Juniperus horizontalis ‘Emerald Spreader’ and J.communis hibernica – which hugs the ground. We also imagined that this sloping strip could be a resistant slow growing grass.

The walkways, steps and seat supports would be made of stone, with sustainable hardwood benching. All pathways would be lit at low level from the handrail wall, and this wall would also integrate flush waste bins.

The central garden would be nearly one hectare in area, thirty metres wide and two hundred and seventy seven metres long. It is laid out as a lawn divided along its length by lines of water, occasionally bubbling, about one metre wide, which signify the primary trusses of the bridge. Water – at a slightly lower level than the long lines of water – also lies on the glazed strips above the Views. Small bridges allow the visitor to move easily from one zone to the other across the water strips.

The three dimensional nature of this landscape would be created by wind protected sunken gardens, some grassed, others paved or gravelled. We imagined a range of open-air pastimes and games within these, or simply relaxing in fragrant surroundings of Rosmarinus officinalis, varieties of Thymus, Osmanthus burkwoodii, & Pittosporum tenuifolium.

Occasionally The Lawn would flow down to the floor below creating grassy banks (with steps) and inner courtyards which could be used as protected outdoor spaces for restaurants etc. Additional box (Buxus sempervirens) or various varieties of Hebe hedging would be introduced to provide additional wind breaks and to reinforce the spatial qualities of the sunken areas.

We also imagined a “landing deck” for contemporary sculpture along the length of the bridge. One could imagine commissioned works by living artists. Of course the landing deck should be international, enriching the bridge as a destination.

We proposed that the two levels within the bridge itself should only house be public leisure activities. The Piazza is a social gathering space where music, dance and many other performances can take place, including outdoor film projection. Restaurants, cafés, bars and a play centre surround the piazza. The primary structural trusses cut through the piazza giving the visitor a heightened sense of being within the bridge. Dramatic views are created from both levels of the piazza through the structure looking out towards the city and upon the Thames.

With its easy access by Underground, we imagined that the bridge could become a wonderful destination for celebration – a child’s birthday party, extension of festivals from Gabriel’s Wharf and the park on the South Bank, as a spectacular location to watch firework and other displays on and above the river.


The White City scheme could be geographically defined as lying between Wormwood Scrubs – of comparable area to Hyde Park – to the north, and Shepherds Bush Green (Common) to the south. Perceiving the White City development as a destination that is very easily accessed by public transport, between potentially two significant, yet very different public open spaces, suggested that the White City scheme should promote the importance of future north-south landscape links.

The initial concept for the project itself envisaged a significant role for external and internal landscapes.

A proposed one hectare nature reserve, combined with a terraced bamboo garden would define the southern boundary as a landscaped strip adjacent to the existing rear gardens of the private houses. In the centre of the scheme is a wintergarden, 30 metres high at the centre and almost the size of a football pitch. It connects with the bamboo terrace to the south.