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RICH, Peter

Born: 1954


He was the Milde McWilliams Memorial Laureate in 2010 with "Space, Place and Architecture".


Introduction by Prof 'Ora JOUBERT of the 23rd Sophia Gray Laureate on the occasion of his Sophia Gray Memorial Lecture.

Sophia Gray Memorial Lecture & Exhibition 2011

[All protocols observed]

"It is a particular honour for me to introduce this year's much-deserving Sophia Gray Laureate, Peter Rich – a former colleague from the University of the Witwatersrand and a valued friend.

Short of traditional praise singing and perhaps not inappropriately, given Peter's particular architectural interests and sensibilities, I have been extensively briefed about how I should structure tonight's introduction. Yet, I have decided instead to draw on my own recollections of my association with Peter in which my dear mother (incidentally a Free Stater by birth) plays a central role.

Officially, my knowledge of Peter dates from 1984, when I received a news paper clipping (from my mother) of a most extraordinary and colourful house in Johannesburg by one Peter Rich – a project that found immediate resonance with a homesick student, studying abroad and wrestling with the notion of local architectural identity.

It was only some two years later, and with great anticipation, that I finally met Peter at Wits. And If I were initially a tad disappointed at his monochrome appearance, I was soon to recognise a more-than-colourful, larger-than-life, personality of exceptional qualities. Given also the inimitable Pancho GUEDES' mischievous and maverick persona, "die meisie van Tukkies" was promptly put to the test to teach with Peter – quite a challenging position, I may add, but a treasured opportunity to experience, first-hand, a creative insight (surmised in a matter of seconds) and an architectural intelligence matched by few, communicated – verbally and visually – equally skillfully.

My enthusiasm for my new colleague's abilities was, surprisingly, again matched by my mother, who could vividly recall Peter's athletic career as one of South Africa's foremost hurdlers – a distinction that has stood him in good stead throughout his architectural career.

Chronologically, Peter was in 1945 born to be an architect; in his words, regarded by his parents as a successor to his mother's brother – an architect who worked for LEITH, FURNER & KALLENBACH but prematurely died at the age of 29. Significantly, Peter's mother was a "nooi Retief" (as my grandfather would have said) of proud Huguenot stock, whereas his father – initially an actor – hailed from England before immigrating with his parents to South Africa.

Peter was born and bred in Johannesburg, attended Greenside Primary School where his teachers were soon TO note that "Peter is an artist, a dreamer and a clown!" Yet at the age of 12, Peter severed a nerve in his left hand and his father died a year later – two traumatic events that prompted his interest in athletics, which he vigorously pursued to, in due course, be ranked 6th in the world. Art was a simultaneous refuge and he acknowledges his high school art teacher's beautifully executed black board drawings of the Hagia Sophia and such-like edifices as the premise of his exceptional analytical sketches.

Peter enrolled at the University of the Witwatersrand in 1964, failed maths in First Year, but was recently part of a team compiling maths text books for Mpumalanga Matric students, using the subliminal mathematical principles of Ndebele art and architecture as point of departure.

Formative influences at Wits included tuition by Don LENNARD, Julian BEINARDT and Ted PINCUS; also visits by the SMITHSONS, Ralph ERSKINE and Nicolaus PEVSNER; and friendships with older students, amongst whom Ivor PRINSLOO and Tony DE SOUZA SANTOS.

Upon graduating with distinction, Peter worked for Max KIRCHHOFFER and a number of unmemorable architectural practices, learning less about architecture than how he did not wish to practice, until he was lured by the then-recently appointed Head of Architecture to teach at Wits. Peter entirely credits Pancho [GUEDES] as having been instrumental in arousing his interest in the African continent, its people and their aesthetic pursuits. His teaching position at Wits provided the platform to meticulously research particularly Ndebele architecture, culminating in a Masters Dissertation in 1991, various exhibitions, even films, and becoming South Africa's foremost authority on the subject.

Through the lessons learnt from the modest African vernacular and his engagement with grassroots communities, combined with a thorough Modernist background, Peter was increasingly able to distil and develop an architectural language pertinent to the socio-economic circumstances of the African continent – unique both in interpretation and implementation, and which we tonight honour and celebrate.

Peter's inspiring and inexhaustible creative oeuvre, spanning more than three decades has, deservingly, been widely recognised: nationally, as the recipient of 16 Awards of Merit and Gold Medal from the South African Institute of Architects and internationally – more recently and most prestigiously – as the winner of the 2009 Global Building of the Year Award.

However, credit must also been given to the other deserving Gold Medalist, his loving wife Dianne, for not only having supported, but for having survived, Peter's antics, plus those of their three boisterous sons – Robert [RICH], Rogan and TJ – each whom have uniquely contributed to their father's extraordinary creative career, which I am sure they will describe as a most colourful, but rewarding journey.

Apart from singing the praises of Peter's exceptional architectural insight, his extraordinary creative output, his continued teaching commitments (currently mostly abroad) as well as his mammoth contribution to Africa's architectural legacy, I also wish to pay homage to a kind and generous human spirit: eager to share and impart his contagious creative passion to his students, former and current employees, and colleagues; with tonight's large turnout testimony to that infectious generosity.

In conclusion: when reflecting on an illustrious architectural career, for me perhaps the most admirable is the fact that despite all the trappings, trimmings, bells and whistles of current practice, Peter Rich has consistently been able to capture the essence of Africa's architectural worth and integrity in a couple of hand-drawn sketches, executed in a somewhat chaotic space of less than 40 square meters in the very same house to which my mother alerted me some 27 years ago, and implemented by a minute team of dedicated vocational practitioners.

Pete', I salute you and look much forward to what will be a most enlightening presentation, accompanied by a beautifully-crafted exhibition, compiled by your son, Robert, and yourself, in the same manner as you have passionately and excellently done throughout your distinctive career."

Thursday 25 August 2011, Fairview Conference Centre, 2 Fairview Street, Navalsig, Bloemfontein

Recipient of the Gold Medal Award from the South African Institute of Architects in 2010.

Peter Rich is the principal of PETER RICH ARCHITECTS.


Business Day, January 23 2015
Architect Peter Rich is set to become the first African Fellow of the Royal Institute of British Architects, one of the highest accolades in the profession, for work in researching and preserving African design.
(Submitted by William MARTINSON)


Business Day, April 28 2016

Earlier this month, Prof Rich was invited to be a part of the grand jury for the Indian Institute of Architects' (IIA’s) National Awards for Excellence in Architecture for 2016.

These were held in Kolkata from April 7-9. Prof Rich was also a keynote speaker at the awards. This was the first time a South African had judged at an Indian architecture awards ceremony.

Prof Rich will return to in India in middle December for a one month period to run master classes and sketching workshops in Mumbai, Kolkata, Thiruvananthapuram, Bangalore and Ahmedabad.

Full article

Articles by RICH

Potgieter, Herman & Rich, Peter. 1989. Written in stone. Leadership South Africa. 8 (7), September 42-53

Books by RICH