Lunch with a (humorous) architect back in Flagey

Tim Harrup

Rudy Ricciotti knows the subject of concrete better than most – he has recently been awarded the prize ‘Gold Medal of the International Academy of Architecture’ for his extraordinary use of concrete. He was able to show many examples of how this most rigid of materials can be made to look flexible, some buildings appearing to be constructed of interwoven concrete twigs. This is sometimes achieved without resorting to making moulds first, which is, as Rudy Ricciotti pointed out, exceptionally difficult. One of the most striking is perhaps concrete ‘trees’ holding up a suspended roadway in Nantes. Other creations are entire concrete facades pierced by windows of all shapes and sizes, but not square or round and appearing to have no connection to individual floor levels inside. These perforations are in certain examples illuminated in different colours by internal lighting systems, giving the impression of a giant kaleidoscope. In another building the ‘holes’ in an overhead covering are in the shape of flowers. Many of his realizations show how concrete structures can be made to give light and shadow to their surroundings.

Many of Rudy Ricciotti’s creations do not make use of support pillars, which represents another technical challenge. On the creative side, one of the most surprising designs is a copy of part of the famous Mont St. Victoire façade close to Aix en Provence, to make an exhibition hall. But his talents also extend to more mundane uses such as sports stadiums. In Belgium, the renovation of ‘La Boverie’ in Liège is one of Rudy Ricciotti’s works – less flamboyant out of obvious historical necessity, but equally important in terms of using concrete.

Along with his technical and conceptual talents, Rudy Ricciotti made very clear his ideological position on the work of architects. The environmental footprint of anything, he stated, is allied to its longevity (which means not having to be replaced by something else for a long time). Architects are capable of playing a major role in environmental protection, but as in so many domains, the interests of sponsoring business sometimes get in the way, and force architects to opt for the solution which best fits their financial and other needs. These architects are therefore pushed to be cowardly in what they create, and this particularly annoys him. Another aspect of all this is the rapid disappearance of the craftsmen, the artisans, who make so much of the creative genius of designers such as architects possible.

We spoke of his humour: “An architect is young at 40, and at 50 he has figured out how to pay the bills; at 60 he gets them paid for him”. And of his native South of France: “I couldn’t get this task done in France, so I went to Marseille…”