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Bruce Rickard

Bruce Rickard, by Anthony Browell


Bruce Rickard was described by Stella de Vulder of the Royal Australian Institute of Architects (RAIA) as "the Frank Lloyd Wright of Australian architecture" and left behind a professional legacy that also reflected his love of life.

One of Australia's most respected and prolific architects, he is best known for the more than 80 distinctive family homes he designed, mostly around Sydney's north shore and northern beaches.

Inspired by Wright, but adapted to Australian conditions, Rickard's aesthetic was particularly focused on aspect, natural textures and open-plan living.

He was born in Roseville on December 1, 1929, to Arthur Lancelot Rickard and his wife Myfanwy, and grew up with his siblings Juanita and Lancelot (known as Buster) on the family property in Turramurra.

From Barker College, Hornsby, he went to Sydney Technical College to study architecture in 1947, while also working full time: at first for his uncle, Ruskin Rowe, then for leading architect Sydney Ancher from 1949 to '53.

During his time with Ancher, a proponent of the International style, Rickard designed his first house, in Turramurra. Incorporating the sleek modernism of the International style, it was also influenced by the opposing ''organic'' approach, of which Wright was the world's leading exponent.

However, it was not until Rickard moved to the US in 1954 that he fully embraced the American architect's principles.

Rickard arrived in the US via Europe, where he admired the architecture and undertook a horticulture-based landscape design course at London's University College. He received a fellowship to study landscape architecture at the University of Pennsylvania under Ian McHarg, a planner and landscape architect who later wrote the influential 1969 book Design with Nature.

Of the many architecturally designed buildings he visited in the US, Rickard was most impressed by those of Wright, which are at one with the landscape, both in their organic design and use of natural materials such as wood and stone.

He was particularly struck by Taliesin West in the Arizona desert (then the great architect's home, now the Frank Lloyd Wright School of Architecture's main campus) and Wright's most famous design, Fallingwater, a Pennsylvania home cantilevered over a waterfall.

After returning to Australia in 1957, Rickard undertook a town-planning course at Sydney University before establishing his own firm in 1959. Rather than mimicking Wright's style, he adapted it for local conditions and his own sociable tendencies, and also introduced Japanese design elements.

At first making his distinctive vision a reality was difficult to accomplish in Australia, where houses were generally red-brick bungalows with red-tile roofs and little in the way of designed outdoor areas.

"The problem then was no one knew the techniques for what we were trying to do," Rickard later recalled.

"We had to do a hell of a lot of research in trying to work out the technical side."

The elevation and location of his buildings were always determined by minimising or maximising sunshine according to the seasons, while interior and exterior spaces were integrated through the use of large, sliding glass panels leading to outdoor areas such as courtyards and terraces.

The three homes Rickard designed for his own family - in Warrawee (1959), Wahroonga (1961) and Cottage Point (1989-90) - were important prototypes for his evolving style.

Curry House 2 in Bayview (1980) and the Marshall House near Port Macquarie (2002) are among the other significant homes designed by Rickard, which were often built on sloping, bushland sites.

The resilience of his design principles were recognised in 2009 when Curry House 2 received the 25-year award at the 2009 NSW Architecture Awards.

According to the jury, it is "a seminal building by a talented and unassuming architect who has had an enormous influence on most Sydney architects … The strong, confident hand of Rickard is ever present, as is the influence of Frank Lloyd Wright and … Shinto shrines".

Curry House 2 had already attracted an RAIA design award in 1983 (one of five Rickard received, spanning 1972 to 2009) and is on the institute's list of important 20th century buildings.

Rickard was the longest serving NSW chapter councillor of the RAIA and a founding member of the Australian Institute of Landscape Architecture.

He enjoyed sharing his passion for architecture with others, presenting public lectures, leading house tours and, from the time he returned to Australia until 2003, tutoring at the universities of Sydney and NSW.

Rickard was also passionate about social cohesion and celebration. ''He designed houses for parties,'' his son, Sam Rickard, told the Herald upon his father's passing. The whole family from his various marriages gathered regularly at Rickard's home, while for his 80th birthday last year they celebrated at his Cottage Point house. ''He was very communal … everybody got along well,'' Sam said.

Rickard was a man who lived life to the full, both personally and professionally. Asked in 2004 if he was contemplating retirement, the then 74-year-old said: "I suppose I will drop dead with my shoes on as they say. So far I don't particularly want to retire because I enjoy … architecture … I have a lot more to offer yet."

Rickard continued working until two months ago.

While he was living in the US, the first of Rickard's seven children, Peter, was born to his first wife, Mary Charlie.

After returning to Australia, they had a daughter, Jane. He later married Robyn Cooke, with whom he had three sons, Sam, James and Nick, while Angus and Acacia were born to his third wife, Marian Bossink.

He also had a stepson, Phillip, and at the time of his death left behind his partner, Louise Havikus. His son Peter died in the early '70s.
Sources: image, Anthony Browell, copy Patricia Maunder

Ian McKay