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London Architect Rick Mather, Designer of Virginia MFA and Peabody Essex Expansions, Dies

Architect Rick Mather

Architect Rick Mather

As reported on Rick Mather‘s website, the London-based architect died Saturday after a short illness. He was 75.

Not as renowned as some starchitects, but admired for his tasteful expansions of the Ashmolean Museum at the University of Oxford and the Dulwich Picture Gallery in London, as well as his masterplan for London’s Southbank Centre arts complex, he was just beginning to have an impact in his native country, the U.S., with his 2010 McGlothlin Wing for the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond.

His next big U.S. museum project was to be a major expansion for the Peabody Essex Museum, Salem, MA. According to a posting on that museum’s website (written before Mather’s death), “work has begun” on that project, which was scheduled for completion in 2017:

The museum is currently in the Enabling Phase, a scope of work to prepare the existing building for construction. Priorities include renovating gallery spaces, installing new utilities, improving heating, ventilation and environmental controls and more. This initial phase is expected to wrap up in late 2013, at which time construction will begin on the adjacent expansion.

I have a query in to the Peabody Essex about the status of its project, in light of the recent sad news. The announcement of Mather’s death on his firm’s website states: “Rick’s approach and influence will continue with Gavin Miller and Stuart Cade, who have been instrumental in his office over the past 20 years.”

In a much more modest project for an American museum, Mather was to design the benches for the Metropolitan Museum’s in-construction renovation of its entrance plaza. The two kiosks he was to design for that project were axed in reponse to resistance by some neighborhood residents to what they regarded as over-development.

To give you a sense of Mather’s elegant spaces and deft touch, here’s what I wrote about his VMFA expansion in my thumbs-up review three years ago for the Wall Street Journal:

Architecture buffs will…savor Mr. Mather’s substantial accomplishment. The VMFA’s new limestone-and-glass home for a portion of the permanent collection, two eateries, a museum shop, library, education facilities, conservation lab, offices and special-exhibition galleries is the first significant project in this country by a respected architect who, like the VMFA, is somewhat under the radar, at least in his native country….

The genius of Mr. Mather’s design is its enhancement of the visitor experience through ease of circulation and navigation, interrupted by ample opportunities to take a break and refresh the eyes in lounges and on an outdoor deck overlooking a reflecting pool….

Once in the galleries, you are impelled onward by sightlines that extend across the breadth of the museum, anchored by “axial objects”—powerful pieces strategically positioned along the linear thoroughfares, beckoning you into the next room. The museum’s “wow” spaces are created not by flashy architecture but by exceptional collections, enticingly installed.

For my related photo essay in CultureGrrl, focusing on the simple but elegant architectural details of Mather’s VMFA wing, go here.

an ArtsJournal blog