This cinematic homage to Peter Rice, one of the most distinguished engineers of the late 20th century, traces his extraordinary career from his Dundalk childhood to his work on the Sydney Opera House, the Pompidou Centre and the Lloyd’s Building, right through to his untimely death in 1992. Marcus Robinson uses stunning time-lapse photography and revealing interviews to tell the story of a genius who has stood in the shadow of architectural icons. Until now.
Born in Dublin, Rice grew up in Dundalk and studied at Queen’s University Belfast and at Imperial College London. He somehow secured a position as site engineer for the Sydney Opera House before his 30th birthday and went on to work with Richard Rogersand Renzo Piano on the Beaubourg. Other structures featuring Rice’s fingerprints include the Lloyd’s building and the Mound Stand at Lord’s Cricket Ground.
Jonathan Glancey, the distinguished architecture critic, whose head talks here, has suggested that he was to structural engineering as Joyce was to literature. To the untrained eye, the work looks more postmodern than modernist, but An Engineer Imagines certainly confirms that Rice was as iconoclastic as his literary predecessor. Distinguished colleagues such as Piano are on hand to confirm the vitality of his contribution.
A man of impeccable taste, Rice would appreciate the job that Robinson has done. The unmistakable tones of Michael McElhatton talk us through the subject’s own musings. The film-makers shift between conventional framing to a faux-aged format – hairs artfully stuck in the gate – that helps summon up the mid-century spirit. Time-lapse further adds to the energy.
Not every argument will work with every viewer. The encomiums to the forbidding science museum in Parc de la Villette did little to persuade this observer. But the teasing out of Rice’s home life is a delight. It’s rare a documentary manages to make an apparently happy existence seem interesting. We’re more easily distracted by flying plates and serial betrayals. The whole man is well served.
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Garter Lane Arts Centre, O’Connell Street, Waterford