Drawing of the Sydney Opera House under construction (1973)
Designer Utzon, Jorn (1918-)
Copyright: Mervyn Smith/RIBA British Architectural Library Drawings Collection (1966)
Peter Rice was only the second Irishman (after Michael Scott) and one of only three engineers to be honoured with the Royal Gold Medal - the others both of whom he regarded as his masters were Ove Arup and Frei Otto (and he 13 years later).
The award was made in the year of his premature death. Dubbed 'The James Joyce of structural engineers' by architecture critic Jonathan Glancey, Rice’s first major job was working for Arup on the Sydney Opera House, contributing to geometric and model studies before moving to Australia to work on-site, finding himself within one month (due to illness) as lead engineer on what was to become one of the world's most recognisable buildings.
He earned a reputation as the most creative engineer of his generation, building relationships with young architects who were to become the megastars of the future. He worked with Frei Otto developing ideas on lightweight roof structures, but his most crucial role was in engineering the Centre Pompidou in Paris. The idea was based on the work of Archigram and Cedric Price but it was Rice’s job to make it deliverable.
Pyramid, Louvre, Paris, France (1989)
Designer: I. M. Pei & Partners
Copyright: Emmanuel Thirard/RIBA British Architectural Library Photographs Collection (1993)
He set up his own practice RPR (along with Martin Francis and Ian Ritchie) in 1977, working on Michael Hopkins's tented Mound Stand at Lord's; the tent-like canopy within Johann Otto von Spreckelsen's Grand Arche at La Défense; IM Pei's pyramids at the Louvre in Paris; Moshe Safdie's Toronto's Opera House; and Renzo Piano's Kansai International Airport.
Rice was praised for having 'made a great contribution to anchoring the art of architecture to real life, real science and real modernity. His contribution to the creation process is continuous, both in relation to other members of the team for a particular project and to the art of architecture in general'.