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Building of the Month - November 2013

PETER RICE (1935-1992)

Peter Rice 01 - Peter Rice (1935-1992)

Figure 1: Peter Rice testing the structure of the Grand Serres at La Villette, Paris, 1990

Photographer: Michel Denancé

Peter Rice 02 – Aras Chill Dara, Naas, County Kildare

Figure 2: Integrated structure and façades at the Ramps and link space at Áras Chill Dara, Naas, County Kildare (2001)

Architects: Henegan Peng Architects; Photographer: Hisao Suzuki


Peter Rice was born in Dublin in 1935 and educated in his hometown, Dundalk, and Newbridge College, County Kildare.  He studied engineering at Queens University, Belfast, and at Imperial College, London.

He joined Ove Arup & Partners, London, in 1956 and thereafter advised on the design of some of the most significant buildings of the late twentieth century.  He became director of Ove Arup & Partners in 1978 and he set up RFR in Paris in 1982 and continued to be a director of both until his death in October 1992.

Peter Rice, with Hugh Dutton, wrote Le Verre Structurel in 1990 and he was a contributor to numerous international books and journals on architecture, design and engineering.  In 1994, a personal account of his work and the potential of the engineer's role in pushing back the frontiers of the built environment, An Engineer Imagines, was published posthumously.

In 1990 Peter Rice was made an Honorary Member of the Royal Institute of Architects in Ireland, and in 1992 he was awarded the annual Gold Medal for Architecture by the Royal Institute of British Architects.  He was the third engineer to receive the award since 1960: Pier Luigi Nervi (1960); Ove Arup (1966), whom Peter called his "father in engineering".

An extract from the RIBA citation for the 1992 Gold Medal:

Peter Rice is one of the foremost structural engineers of his time.  His work has greatly advanced architecture, reaffirming the deep creative interconnection between humanism and science, art and technology.  His many distinguished contributions started with his appointment as site engineer for Ove Arup and Partners to the Sydney Opera House, after which he designed the structure at the Pompidou Centre in Paris, where his innovative choice of cast steel enabled the scale of this large building to be sympathetic to the fabric of the city.

His approach to using materials has always been innovative and sympathetic to their nature…  His collaborations with Piano have always produced work of the highest order.  Perhaps the most impressive result of their teamwork is the De Menil Collection Museum at Houston, Texas, where his choice of ferro-concrete and ductile iron for the leaves of the roof, allowed a marvellous quality of light in the interior…  His glass walls at the Science Museum at La Villette in Paris incorporate components from the motor industry to allow vistas of great splendour; his canopy under the Grande Arche at La Défense brings human scale to a huge monument…  He has made a great contribution to anchoring the art of architecture to real life, real science and real modernity.  His contribution to the creative process is continuous, both in relation to other members of the team for a particular project and to the art of architecture in general.  For him, the creative process is not linear but a loop between interactive disciplines.  The creation of architecture is made up of periods of silence, of sudden intuition and of passionate teamwork, and the quintessence of this is Peter Rice.  His passionate belief that technology is a tool to be used with imagination for the benefit of mankind has inspired a generation of designers of buildings of all disciplines.

RFR was established by Peter Rice in 1982 when he was offered the opportunity to work on the design of the Grand Serres at La Villette in Paris.  He invited Martin Francis and Ian Ritchie to join the team in Paris.

RFR became a laboratory interface between architecture and engineering.  RFR staff were predominantly French, and its work was based in Europe.  RFR is an engineering group but with the involvement of architects giving it design aspirations, typified by the La Villette façade.  Engineering was always the driving force, with the emphasis, where possible, on invention and innovation, initially and particularly with glass.

Peter Rice 03 – Stack A, IFSC Docklands, Dublin

Figure 3: Stack A, IFSC Docklands, Dublin (2007)

Architects: Michael Collins Associates; Photographer: Gerry O’Leary


Peter Rice 04 – Leinster House Pavilion, Kildare Street, Dublin

Figure 4: Leinster House Pavilion, Kildare Street, Dublin (2007)

Architects: Bucholz McEvoy Architects; Photographer: Michael Moran

Text for Traces of Peter Rice exhibition at Farmleigh Gallery 2013:

Although a proud Irishman, my father never actually had the opportunity to work on any projects in Ireland.  So when RFR was approached by Merrit Bucholz of Bucholz McEvoy Architects in 1996 to work on the main façade of the Fingal County Council HQ we were very keen indeed.  This project was completed in 2000 and was the start of a succession of projects in Ireland; municipal buildings in Limerick, Naas and Mullingar, the renovation of the Custom House Warehouse in Dublin, a mixed use development Elm Park and the Welcoming pavilions at Leinster House.

With the economy growing fast, the combination of generous construction budgets, ambitious briefs and talented young Irish architects allowed us to develop a significant part of our business in Ireland.  The use of timber, glass and steel and the incorporation of building physics analyses were key innovations and represent a step forward from our previous projects in France.

I have always been very proud of RFR's Irish work.  I ask myself sometimes whether we've managed to live up to Peter's memory with these projects. I like to think we have.

Kieran Rice, President of RFR Group, 2013


Peter Rice 05 – Fingal County Hall, Fingal

Figure 5: Fingal County Hall, Fingal (2000)

Architects: Bucholz McEvoy Architects; Photographer: Michael Moran

Peter Rice 06 – Westmeath County Buildings and Library

Figure 6: Westmeath County Buildings and Library, Mullingar, County Westmeath (2009)

Architects: Bucholz McEvoy Architects; Photographer: Michael Moran


Peter Rice 07 – Limerick County Hall, Limerick

Figure 7: Limerick County Hall, Limerick (2003)

Architects: Bucholz McEvoy Architects; Photographer: Michael Moran


The legacy of Peter Rice has continued through the work of RFR.

Peter Rice's influence has shaped a new generation of architects and engineers who renew, through their own work, his exploration of materials, his commitment to the integrity of the structure, his refusal of precedent and his courage as a designer.

He has imprinted les traces de la main on material culture and the built environment through his use of cast steel, ductile iron, stone, glass and ferro-cement. The RFR projects in Ireland illustrate the essential attributes of Peter Rice's legacy namely collaboration, materiality and generosity of spirit.

Angela Rolfe, Assistant Principal Architect at the Office of Public Works



Barry, Kevin (ed.), Traces of Peter Rice (Dublin: Lilliput Press, 2013)

Rice, Peter, An Engineer Imagines (London: Artemis, 1994)



Arup Phase 2, London  November 2012-March2013
Centre Culturel Irlandais, Paris  May-June 2013
Farmleigh Gallery October-December 2013
Queens University, Belfast  Early 2014










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