PETER RICE : THE CONSUMMATE ENGINEER

wallreplica QUBthe process collectsBorn Dublin Brought up in Dundalk and Educated at Queens University and beyond.
Nature and Humanity.
It takes a skilled thoughtful challenged mind to anticipate the future and design responses which define our own ergonomic gravitational sense of place. The removal of artifice and replacing it with ideas derived from the scale of humans and the language of our tensile structures, the human frame, its strengths and weakness all lay out the metrics used by Peter Rice.

The way this was achieved came through collaboration and interpretation of others problems in addressing the mathematics of gravitational space.
In return a dynamic rational overcame those involved. Such was the direct inculcated belief and understanding of the energy latent in ideas Peter Rice obtained a reputation as an Engineer who stretched parameters seeing as he did organic solutions that were timeless and of their time.
Once invented they bore instant recognition and became familiar as only timeless pieces do.

An Engineer asked a gathering to show him how to stand an egg with the pointy end pointing upwards. No one rose to the challenge so the Engineer took the egg and slightly broke the rounder end and placed it on the surface. This of course was an intervention which came of altering the solution. Making do with what is. The evaluation according to Engineers is lost on me given their is a certain loss involved but a human solution not derived from nature.

So where do we begin? Forces will keep the eggs shape. A base of sand will allow no migration of the contents. Whatever is to happen has to be accounted for, planned for so that probably is the lesson.

All familiar with the detail of the Sydney Opera House may be also familiar with the designs origins as Jorn Utzon created the forms by slicing a breakfast orange and arranging the segments as we now view the building.

The audacity of the design. The sunshine genesis of the location. The possibility of the functionality of space. All were defendant on realisation.
Ove Arup set standards which drew people such as Peter Rice and the task of computing the vectors of the shell were taken on by Peter Rice and his team. This advanced in one project new frameworks for structural engineering modeling not only leading the computation methods designed and employed by Peter Rice.

It is true shell structures are now among the least mass intensive structures ever employed but back then the structure was required to be formed in reinforced concrete. Similar spaces could be spanned by shells made of advanced timber engineered shells with insulated layers. The egg is notoriously strong and so is the composition of most suitably arranged shells. Hyperbolic paraboloid shapes not only derive sensual shapes and dramatic curves and combinations of juxtaposed arrangements, they relate un mistakenly to peoples own experience of the nature of shells.
The tortoises shell is made from joined segments fused in little growing programmes of hexagons which abbreviate at a clustered edge skimming the surface as a house made for transportation. A such lightweight shell with the rigidity of armour.
Peter Rice on perpetual pursuit of all things exemplary must have looked at the tortoise shell and understood the significance of how it was efficient and primarily functional. I think the material is the ubiquitous Calcium Carbonate with a special glaze! The colour of the Opera House mimic such natural occurrences of this form. It of course is not pitted as an orange nor matt like an egg but follows the tortoise shell idiom. Accidental or not it is indicative of the Architect Engineer succeeding best when the organic is understood. The replacement of the Gothic and Classic with other solutions realizing material development has advanced 20th and 21st century design.
It currently is in many cases the obverse of where Peter Rice and his contemporaries were at given the over-engineered ridiculous statement buildings and bombastic hideous constructions sen on every continent.
After Niemayer, Alto, Wright, Corbusier, Foster came imitators and the gap left by the loss of Peter Rice at the height of his career was a grave loss in 1992. He had become involved in expression through the arts with, following on from the Menil Collection in Texas which became a galleries contexturalisation of light in a museum, he developed the outdoor per existing Montpellier mountain amphitheater artisanal performance space.
This was a collaboration of diverse minds but it combined to elucidate an ancient form of performance which brought nature in as a player with reflected light and vista creating magical effect when the sun prevailed.
His humanity is apparent in the regard with which he is remembered from his close knit family and long line of colleagues and students with whom he shared in a profoundly giving way the accumulated and soon to be uncovered possibilities. The joining together of ideas and intentions is exemplified in the outcomes seen throughout his work.
I have seen the Paris buildings and know only by reputation and iconic status SOH nevertheless it is part of an architectural education to understand such engineers exist and that they can assist or even change directions of thinking into superlative components of material design forming buildings which harmonies as never imagined before.

The articulation of buildings, their flexure is I think, and no one points yet to this theory, due to the notable Engineering of certain large storage and Mill buildings built in Belfast. The best one for explaining it is the Belfast Exposed Gallery. A photographers gallery in which the spans and columns are so arranged to support heavy load bearing floors over several levels the joints are beautifully formed to articulate the movement of the whole building as when the tidal surge of the nearby Belfast Lough fills the ‘sleech’ soft basin which forms the city centre, it rises freely and with barely noticeable ‘fluidity’ to then settle once again when the water recedes.
Peter Rice must have been aware of this as it was at the forefront of building Engineering in Belfast and the Heavy buildings contrasted with the lightweight engineering forms of steel frames, shell buildings which themselves require articulated joints if only to sustain and transfer wind and thermal movements. The buildings at Queens University only got built from 1878 onwards and themselves were using techniques of construction, built absurdly into the ‘Gothic’ appearance and also where 14th century and 15th century idioms were expressed inside in the trusses, outside on the brickwork envelope with an invisible web and weave of structural assistance in the cavities of its external walls supporting the extreme loads of the Great Halls heavy truss work. All looks at ease with itself and this type of ingenuity around Belfast must have rubbed off on the acutely observant Peter.
What also of the shipbuilding tradition?

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