“Traces of Peter Rice”, Arup Phase 2, London, 27 Nov 12

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“Traces of Peter Rice”, Arup Phase 2, London, 27 Nov 12

Renzo Piano and Peter Rice assessing prototype leaf, 1983Photographer: David Crossley, © David CrossleyThe Menil Collection 1982 – 1987The commission by Mrs Dominique de Menil to createa new museum in Houston, Texas, to house her extensivecollections of antiquities, oceanic sculpture and modernart saw the blossoming of the extraordinary workingrelationship that had developed between Renzo Pianoand Peter Rice since Beaubourg: ‘Actually it was hardto say where the architect ended and the engineerbegan and vice-versa.’ (Renzo Piano)De Menil, a visionary patron of the arts with anactive interest in architecture, challenged her newdesign team to work out a scheme for the MenilCollection that used natural light to illuminate hergalleries – and changeable, intense Texas daylightat that. The design stage lasted around a year and ahalf, allowing room for experimentation. They decided tolet in the more constant, cooler light from the north andexclude direct light from the south. The team exploredthe use of ferrocement leaves – roof elements acting likelouvres – attached to a ductile iron frame without boltedjoints, allowing a smooth transition between the twomaterials. Like his choice of cast steel for thegerberettes of the Centre Pompidou, Peter Rice was keento use materials that involved craftsmanship.Ferrocement, a material usually used for boats, hasa delicacy and luminosity that suited the Menil project.After being sprayed into the mould it was finished bymaster plasterers. Ductile iron, a form of cast iron butwithout its typical brittleness and sharp surfaces, issometimes characterised by irregularities not foundin machine-produced structures.10 11


There followed a lengthy period of testing and prototypingas the use of these materials for such a roofstructure was unknown territory. Numerous scaleprototypes and mock-ups were created. As Renzo Pianowrote: ‘Without all this effort, this lengthy meticulousproject that was both artisanal and scientific wouldnever have succeeded.’Opposite: The Menil Collection, interior view, 1987Photographer: Richard Bryant, © Richard Bryant12 13


Maquette for the Full-Moon Theatre, 1987Photographer: Humbert Camerlo, © Humbert CamerloThe Full-Moon Theatre 1987 – 1992‘The project is not a problem we can solve quickly. It’snot part of the modern misconception that we all haveso little time to live, that if something is not done bytomorrow, then it is not worth doing. The Full-MoonTheatre is a project of many life-times.’- Peter Rice, ‘An Engineer Imagines’Nestled in the Cévennes mountains, north ofMontpellier, is a small dry stone amphitheatre. It wasbuilt by Moroccan stonemasons in 1991 according toa geometry designed at Arup in London to face the locusof the summer full moon. The theatre forms part of theAteliers de Gourgoubès, a cross-disciplinary centreof experi mentation devised and run by French operadirector Humbert Camerlo.If the Menil Collection was a project involving thediffusion and control of sunlight, the Full-Moon Theatrewas all about reflecting, collecting and amplifyingmoonlight with minimal technical intervention. Performancescould only be staged for the few days around thetime of the full moon when its light was intense enough.This project was artisanal, ephemeral and dependenton seasonal weather conditions as well as the mooncycles. The theatre required the participation of peoplefrom all walks of life to try out new ideas, includingviewers and visitors as well as the technical team. Itwas suspended in the realm of the experimental andincomplete, and was a metaphor for all that Peter Riceheld dear. For Humbert Camerlo it was ‘a symbol of theintegration between art, science and the environment’.14 15


Large reflectors were required to focus the moonlighton to the stage. Rice had formed a team includingAndy Sedgwick at Arup in London and Nicolas Prouvéat RFR in Paris, both junior engineers at the time.They were tasked with developing the geometry of theprincipal parabolic reflectors, Kepler and Archimedes,while Humbert Camerlo designed the slatted Copernic.Between 1991 and 1992 the two engineers pursued anintensive dialogue of faxed calculations. These werethen sent on to Gourgoubès where, in the craft work–shop, the reflectors were constructed out of silver mylarsheeting stretched onto timber frameworks and testedby family and friends at the site.The mirrored dome, specially created byTristan Simmonds for this exhibition, contains theearly maquette used by Humbert Camerlo in 1987 totest his concept for reflecting moonlight using concaveshaving mirrors. The slide projections show images fromPeter Rice’s 1986 talk ‘Exploring the Boundaries ofDesign’, carefully conserved by renowned architecturaleditor and archivist Monica Pidgeon (1913-2009).Further images from the Gourgoubès archive show thedevel opment of the Full-Moon Theatre between 1991and 1992, including of the moonlit performance on27 June 1991 by Connecticut dance ensemble Momix,choreographed by Moses Pendleton; and tests of thereflectors by neighbours, friends and family, the followingsummer. Peter Rice’s great personal attachment toGourgoubès can be seen in the images of his daughterJulia’s wedding there in June 1992, a joyous occasion thattook place just a few months before his death on 25 October.The Full-Moon Theatre seen from the stage, 1991Photographer: Humbert Camerlo, © Humbert Camerlo16 17


Museum of Science and Industryat Parc de la Villette, Paris 1984The ‘Facades Bioclimatiques’ on the greenhouses or‘Serres’ of the La Villette science museum in Paris werea breakthrough in the use of structural glass and tensilecable truss bracing systems. They were created inresponse to architect Adrien Fainsilber’s design conceptof highly transparent ‘buffer zones’ between the museumand the future park.Peter Rice and his Paris RFR team applied investmentcasting and spherical bearings usually associated withaeronautical and yachting technologies to solve theinterface between brittle glass and flexible cable trusses.The ‘H’ configuration support connects 2×2m, 12mmthick tempered glass panels suspended in a series fromthe stainless steel tubular structural frame with a strutlink back to the cable truss to restrain the glass curtainagainst wind loads.Component elements of the four-point assembly, © Hugh DuttonPeter Rice in the Serres at La Villette observed by Hugh Dutton, 1990Photographer: Michel Denancé, © Michel Denancé18 19


The Ship by Frank Stella (installation view) at theMetropolitan Museum of Art, 2007Photographer: Martin Francis, © Martin Francis,courtesy the artistFrom Museum to Ship 1990 – 2007A project by Frank StellaFrank Stella first met Peter Rice in 1988. Two yearslater the artist and the engineer began working togetheron a proposal for an upper wing of the new GroningerMuseum in the Netherlands, which was to be designedby Alessandro Mendini. Stella’s concept was based onChinese lattice designs and Peter Rice use early formsof 3D computer graphics to model the leaf and turn itinto a buildable form, which he proposed to be madefrom Teflon-coated fabric stretched on to a timberstructure. The project remained at concept stage formany years before it was revisited by Frank Stellaworking with Martin Francis in 2003.The leaf form was created using parametric modellingtechniques which enable the artist to modify the shapein real time and to view the results.Stella then decided to build a full size (15 metrelong) sculpture out of glass fibre composite skinnedwith carbon fibre. A team at Arup, under the directionof Pat Dallard, calculated the structure and producedthe laminate schedule. Stella acquired a 5 axis millingmachine to shape the high density foam cores and histeam built the sculpture in his studio in Newburg, USA.The sculpture, now called The Ship, was includedin the 2007 retrospective ‘Frank Stella: Painting intoArchitecture’ at the Metropolitan Museum of Art,New York City. It was displayed emerging from a wallso that people could move in and around it.Frank Stella had finally partially achieved theexperience of moving through his work which had beenan original objective of the Groninger Museum projectthat he had begun with Peter Rice 17 years earlier.20 21


‘Traces of Peter Rice’ is an Arup Phase 2 exhibition. Theexhibition tours to the Centre Culturel Irlandais, Parisfrom 14 May until 28 June 2013 and to the FarmleighGallery, Dublin from 10 October 2013 to 23 December 2013.The exhibition is accompanied by a new publication,‘Traces of Peter Rice’, featuring essays andinterviews by family, friends, scholars and colleaguesincluding Renzo Piano, Richard Rogers, Jack Zunz,Amanda Levete and Andy Sedgwick and exhibitioncurator Jennifer Greitschus. Edited by Kevin Barry,Professor Emeritus, School of Humanities, NationalUniversity of Galway, the book provides anindispensable foundation to further study of thelife and career of Peter Rice.Published by The Lilliput Press, the publicationis a collaboration between Arup, Culture Ireland,the Centre Culturel Irlandais and the Irish Officeof Public Works.Hardback £20ISBN: 9781 84351 3865133 pagesArup, Phase 28 Fitzroy StreetLondon W1T 4BJwww.arup.com/phase2Arup, Phase 2 exhibitions on www.facebook.comDesign: Wolfram Wiedner studio22 23


The people along the sandAll turn and look one way.They turn their back on the land.They look at the sea all day.As long as it takes to passA ship keeps raising its hull;The wetter ground like glassReflects a standing gull.The land may vary more;But wherever the truth may be--The water comes ashore,And the people look at the sea.They cannot look out far.They cannot look in deep.But when was that ever a barTo any watch they keep?– Robert Frost, ‘Neither Out Far Nor In Deep’24

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