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Rick Mather Museums: Light and Space

Report of the lecture given by Professor Andrew Hopkins
on April 24th 2013

Quite often I have looked at the title of a Lecture and thought is this for me, shall I go?  There were not the usual number attending in the evening so perhaps I am not alone.  This excellent lecture however, more than proved why one should always make the effort!

Professor Andrew Hopkins opened our eyes and suggested we look again at our museums, this time viewing them from an entirely different perspective, not the objects but the buildings in which they are contained.   Consider for instance, how can you extend a museum by adding a wing or alteration to an existing beautiful building without ruining it?  In describing to us the work of the architect Rick Mather he showed us how he had successfully managed to tackle this very difficult problem.

Using examples of Rick Mather’s work the speaker was able to illustrate the three main problems that have to be considered: light, space and circulation. 

Rick Mather, an admirer of John Soane and the classical style, had a softer, lighter touch than Sir Norman Foster.  Using examples of his work, particularly those on the Ashmolean extension in Oxford and the Towner Museum extension in Eastbourne, the speaker showed us how the use of different sized windows, single and double room heights and staircases framed with glass, altered the perspective, improved the layout and circulation.  Rick Mather’s inspired use of light coloured stone under the glazed-in central courtyard of the Wallace Collection kept the classical feel whilst forming a restaurant space and, under it, lecture rooms and storage.

The placing of the all-important cafe is another important point to be considered.  After a break you should feel refreshed and want to continue your viewing.  Do you give cafes a view or outside space?

Circulation is important - how many times have you got lost or felt you have missed something?  We were also shown the graceful covered walkways on the extension to the Dulwich Museum where the clever use of the new ‘intelligent’ glass in the roof, not only lights the objects in the Gallery but is scarcely visible over the outside wall which had to be retained.

All these things we take for granted.

Sadly Rick Mather had died a few days previously and our lecture took place on the day his obituary appeared in The Times.  His photo shows a kind gentle man who it was said when considering his work with Museums ‘held respect for their traditions and collections and could take a dark or enclosed space and let in air’.

Andrew Hopkins’ enthusiasm for his subject was very apparent and his talk was beautifully illustrated.  When, at the end, he was asked about how he became interested, he confessed to having had a Rick Mather extension done on his house.  Lucky man!

Sue Harman

Related Links:

Rick Mather Architects
Ashmolean Museum, Oxford
Towner Museum, Eastbourne
Wallace Collection
Dulwich Picture Gallery
Rick Mather obituary in The Times, April 24 2013