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What Architect Ian Ritchie Can’t Live Without

Photo: courtesy

If you’re like us, you’ve probably wondered what famous people add to their carts. Not the JAR brooch and Louis XV chair, but the stain-remover pen and the tongue cleaner. We asked architect Ian Ritchie, who has collaborated with other Royal Academy members to curate an exclusive collection of prints, about the bluetooth speaker, Japanese menswear, and calligraphy pen he can’t live without.

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Although, apparently, it’s unusual for an architect, I initially reflect upon a new commission with words; I seek to find a sense of the project by writing, and this can become a poem or even an aphorism. Using these as inspiration I then pick up my Japanese brush pen and make a few lines. Others have described these as architectural calligraphies. They are essential to my process of design. Once an architectural image has been drawn, it can leave an echo in the mind which locks in an initial idea. Words do not, and allow the freedom to explore various concepts for longer. The subsequent calligraphic image is more powerful as a result, incorporating complexity within simplicity.


Poul-Jørn Lindberg, together with well-known architect Hans Dissing, created the titanium frame, and the world’s first rimless titanium wire glasses. These are so light — weighing less than 2gms — that I do not really notice them, and because they are rimless and shaped to my ears, even less aware. They present refined engineering, which along with my trifocal and actinic lens (which darken in sunlight and avoids the use of sunglasses) are so important to my wellbeing. I’ve been wearing them since 2004, when I found I needed glasses. [Editor’s note: these are tricky to find online, but Lindberg has a store locator on their website.]

Richter studied at the Royal Academy of Music (where my architecture practice recently created two acoustic paradises). The Blue Notebooks is brilliant; experimental yet rooted in classical music, using readings from Kafka’s The Blue Octavo Notebooks and the work of Czesław Miłosz, poet and writer. Richter combines literary and musical poetry with minimal instrumental composition to reach for new music beyond aesthetic minimalism. That speaks to my own love of words and poetry — which I also enjoy writing — and interest in electronic music, especially Pierre Henry, in my student days. I still enjoy minimalist composers such as Arvo Pärt and Philip Glass. I listen to this on my iPhone, or online.

I travelled frequently before the COVID-19 pandemic, and this beautifully designed little speaker with great sound quality was indispensable, because it allowed me the luxury of listening to the music I love so well even in those all too often soulless hotel rooms. It’s rechargeable, and still perfect after three years.

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What is literature without the genius of Shakespeare? On Desert Island Discs, castaways are told that his complete works and the Bible are already there — it is impossible not to return to his words and phrases. His drama and verse seem to encompass all human emotions and manners, our individual and collective behaviours, good, bad and indifferent. This edition was edited while both I and Jonathan Bate were governors of the Royal Shakespeare Company. It triggers so many memories of the RSC’s productions under Michael Boyd’s artistic leadership that it is my go-to book when researching ideas; this has been a useful synopticon to help navigate searches based upon ideas. An example might be: if I have an idea about making a building I would look up “building/approach/risks” and lo, I am directed to: Henry IV Pt II Act 1 Scene 3: Lord Bardolph to Hastings. I am not sure even Wiki is yet this sophisticated with ‘idea’ searches.

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Quite aside from being one of my best and dearest friends, John opened my senses to a completely new way of feeling colours, particularly to how unusual combinations could live together. In his early career he was considered Europe’s answer to Rothko. I see these paintings very morning, and they continue to surprise and make me smile. I have them in our link room with a huge window to the garden, which serves as both a dining room and my office during the Pandemic.

One might imagine that these etchings are the opposite of Hoyland’s colourful acrylic journeys across canvas, but they’re not. Norman is an extraordinary alchemist in the way he uses his vision and his skill in capturing the essence of landscapes into copper plate. He gave me an insight into the idea of black as a colour. Somewhere about one hundred years ago we in the West seem to have lost the sense of black as a colour. Yet it is, and Norman gives it back to us, transformed into a multitude of colours in the landscape by working through our memories. Noman Ackroyd is to acid what Turner was to water. These are throughout the house; in the living room, bedroom, my wife’s office, and landing.

Photo: retailer

Half my wardrobe is filled with Blanc de Chine shirts, trousers, and jackets, any of which can be combined beautifully to create a ‘new’ outfit. They are all subtle and exquisitely designed and made with refined understatement. I particularly appreciate their elegant collars, which allow me never to have to wear a tie, even in some ‘clubs’. They also make this: the equivalent of a cardigan that is simply not one, but more of a casual throw-on. And I have two informal jackets — a favourite bomber jacket and super lightweight black leisure jacket. It has been more than a decade since I did not wear something from Blanc de Chine. Kin Yeung created Blanc de Chine in 1990, but he is so low profile he is even less visible than me! [Editor’s note: this price does not include shipping.]

This is a unique collective artwork, created by the Royal Academicians to express their thanks to the Friends of the Academy. It is a single work of art, in a beautiful bespoke box containing 101 gorgeous prints from originals all made on June 1, which would have been our Varnishing Day, when Academicians come together to see the ‘hang’ the day before the opening of the 2020 Summer Exhibition. The portfolio documents what we were individually feeling, thinking, and making on that day. Conceived and organised by Academicians Hughie O’Donoghue and David Mach, the portfolio celebrates a democratic optimism in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic. [Editor’s note: this is only available for RA members. You can purchase a membership and a copy of the portfolio for £267 here.]

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What Architect Ian Ritchie Can’t Live Without