Peter Rich draws attention to the lost art of architecture at Venice Biennale

Joburg heritage building designer Peter Rich has become one of the first African architects to be invited to exhibit the world’s most prestigious architecture exhibition

27 May 2018 - 00:00 By ALISTAIR ANDERSON

Architects from across the world who were relying on computer tools have been taught to draw with their hands again by Parktown-based heritage building designer Peter Rich, and now his skill is being celebrated on a distinguished stage.
His exhibit, Landscape Architecture, opened last night at the world's most prestigious architecture exhibition, La Biennale di Venezia Arsenale.
It focuses on Rich's organic hand-drawn designs. The Joburger was selected along with 70 other architects to contribute to Venice's 2018 architecture event.
La Biennale di Venezia Arsenale is one part of the two-part Venice Biennale for Architecture.
The first part is the Giardini della Biennale, which hosts exhibits from about 63 countries and is designed to highlight the varied architecture of the world.
Rich is being featured in the second part, where architects exhibit by invitation. He was chosen by the 2018 curators, who are Irish architects Yvonne Farrell and Shelley McNamara. 
Farrell's and McNamara's brief was to work to a theme, Free Space, and to choose architects who contributed to that theme. The curators say Rich was chosen as an expert in architectural drawing who reminds people in the profession that they have forgotten to draw. He has taught people all over the world to draw by hand.His lectures, which have included drawing craft, have taken place in 29 countries including Mexico, Tanzania, India, the US, Turkey and Finland. Now, for six months his organic drawing style will be on view to the public.
"The curators interpret free space as being architecture that the public has access to, that is beautiful and generous," says Rich.
Rich's exhibition includes an installation that has 15 large canvas panels with his drawings on them suspended from a timber-and-steel mobile structure attached to the old rafters of the biennale exhibition hall.
The mobile was designed in Krugersdorp in western Gauteng. Ruairidh Macleod, who works for Peter Rich's company, Rich Architects, helped put the exhibition together, printing the detailed design resolution drawings. The panels are translucent and local lighting experts added lights that make the panels glow.
Each drawing is 1.5m by 2.5m and shown on panels suspended from a 5m high ceiling. The drawings include projects such as the Mapungubwe Museum, Westridge House and Garden, Stone House in China, Griqua Cultural Centre and Jackson Hlungwani's mythological African landscape.
Garreth van Niekerk, who has curated Rich's exhibition, says the drawings form a candelabra and that they dance with one another.The exhibit took four days to put up, three weeks to build, and 45 years to draw.
"Our exhibition is considered sublime both as a temple of light celebrating the 13th-century context of the 300m-long building it is in and the generosity of sharing the journey that drawing can take one on. Fantastico bellissimo magnifico," says Rich.
"The exhibit is not related to politics, nationality nor gender. I believe the experience of good places is good for our wellbeing and that is part of what I've tried to have behind me in everything I've designed," he says.
Curators Farrell and McNamara founded award-winning company Grafton Architects. They won the inaugural World Building of the Year award in 2008 for their faculty building located at the Luigi Bocconi University in Milan.
Rich won the same award a year later for the Mapungubwe Interpretation Centre, a 1,500m visitors' centre set among the national park's flora and including tourist facilities and SANParks offices.Farrell and McNamara said: "Peter Rich seems to think and see with his hand. His fluent, vibrant drawings show a keen observation of the world around him, picking up the tiniest of detail in the wall, on the ground, in the contour of the land, in the loose-fit organic forms of the vernacular buildings, the enclosures, the habitation clusters of South Africa.
"This exhibit creates a world with his hand-drawn sketches. There is a force of energy embedded in these drawings which communicates respect and sensitivity for the land, for the resources, for the occupants, for the communities."
Rich served as professor of architecture at the University of the Witwatersrand for 27 years. He has documented architectural styles of various African societies in his career, which runs just short of a half a century.

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