In 1981, Ian Ritchie established his own practice in London, Ian Ritchie Architects (iRAL). Ian Ritchie’s first building – Fluy House, exploiting solar energy – had been completed in 1978 in France. He was working as a consultant at Arup within Peter Rice’s Lightweight Structures Group. He was also collaborating with Peter Rice on Shelterspan – a lightweight aluminium frame and fabric structure, and teaching at the Architectural Association.
That same year he co-founded the design engineering practice RFR (Rice Francis Ritchie) with Peter Rice and Martin Francis. Peter Rice had invited Ian Ritchie and Martin Francis to join him after being approached by the French government to help on the design of the new Museum of Science, Technology and Industry at La Villette. The practice combined, in a seamless working relationship, engineering, architecture and industrial design.
During the following six years, Ian Ritchie divided his time between London and Paris and two design firms: one architectural, the other engineering.
Eagle Rock House for the botanist Ursula Colahan was completed in England in 1982 and Jean Nouvel invited Ian Ritchie to exhibit its design at the first Biennale de Paris des Jeunes Artistes. 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 Sculpture Courts, The Cloud at the Arche de la Défense in Paris, and the TGV-RER Station at Roissy Airport.
Ian Ritchie retired as a Director of RFR in 1987 in order to focus upon his own architectural practice, in particular on the practice’s first major housing project in Limehouse, London, but remained a consultant until 1989. He continued to work closely with Peter Rice on the Louvre Sculpture Courts until completed and on other iRAL projects with which he was leading the engineering until his untimely death in October 1992.
iRAL completed several more projects in France through the 1990s. These included the multi-million-pound Albert Cultural Centre – also construction managed by iRAL; the Boves Pharmacy – a totally pre-fabricated building designed and engineered only by telephone and fax between London and Epinal; offices in Amiens, Daours nursery and primary school; and in collaboration with Kathryn Gustafson, the Cultural Greenhouse in the Jardins de l’Imaginaire (Gardens of the Imagination) at Terrasson-Lavilledieu.
iRAL went on to realise and contribute to other major new 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 White City (Westfield) in London; the RSC Courtyard Theatre in Stratford-upon-Avon as well as its transformation, completed in 2016, into the new ‘The Other Place’ (TOP).
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 iRAL’s design of the Sainsbury Wellcome Centre in London is 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 also collaborated with RFR and Kathryn Gustafson on the design of a new generation of high voltage EDF Pylons and 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.
Recently completed projects include the Sainsbury Wellcome Centre for Neural Circuits and Behaviour at UCL, in central London completed in 2016, for which its unique structural cast cladding system has been registered for an international patent. In 2018 the Susie Sainsbury opera-musical theatre and Angela Burgess recital hall at the Royal Academy of Music opened to universal acclaim. Current projects include a 1000 seat theatre in Cairo, the transformation of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, a new business park in Malta, office and residential developments in Covent Garden, London.
The practice’s creative design philosophy is informed by an investigative and creative approach based upon its own and the client’s social, aesthetic, and ecological values, and the physical and socio-political context and technical performance requirements specific to each project and landscape. Often this happens in collaboration with well-known artists, mathematicians, physicists, musicians and experts in other fields. The results are often innovative and architecturally unique, iRAL does not impose an instantly recognisable architectural ‘signature’ style on the buildings it designs.
iRAL have won more than 60 competitions, premiated in 40 more, and received over 80 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, 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 for the Mies Van der Rohe Award – European Union Prize for Contemporary Architecture.
The practice’s work has been very widely published in books, reviews and journals, extensively exhibited in the UK and internationally, and have been the subject of several films.
Publications include: (well) Connected Architecture, Ian Ritchie (1994): Academy Editions, UK and Ernst & Sohn, Germany; The Biggest Glass Palace in the World, Ian Ritchie & Ingerid Helsing Almaas (1997): Ellipsis, New York; Ian Ritchie, Technoecologia, Alessandro Rocca: Motta, Italy (1998) and as Ian Ritchie, Technoecology, in the USA (1999): Whitney Library of Design, New York; Plymouth Theatre Royal Production Centre (2003), The Spire (2004) and The RSC Courtyard Theatre (2006): all published by Categorical Books; The Leipzig Book of Drawings (2007) and Ian Ritchie’s autobiography, Being: An Architect, (2014) published by the Royal Academy.