The life and works of engineer Peter Rice (1935-1992) are being celebrated in a major exhibition running until 22 December. Hosted by the Office of Public Works and taking place in the Farmleigh Gallery in Dublin, ‘Traces of Peter Rice’ is part of a series of events being held in London and Paris, two cities in which Rice has had significant architectural impact.

A native of Dundalk, Rice attended Newbridge College in Co Kildare before graduating from Queen’s University Belfast and Imperial College London. Regarded as one of the world’s foremost structural engineers, in the second half of the 20th century he was renowned for his innovative work. This work included such iconic structures as Sydney Opera House, the Pyramide Inversée of the Louvre, the Lloyds Building in London, the Pompidou Centre in Paris and Kansai Airport in Japan. He was celebrated for his pioneering use of materials, breaking new ground through his use of cast steel and ductile iron and going on to be hugely influential to a generation of engineers and architects.

At recent lecture held at Engineers Ireland HQ hosted by the organisation’s Structures and Construction Division, Sophie Le Bourva, associate director in Arup London and a member of Rice’s team up until his death in 1992, talked about the inspirational nature of his work and how it continues to have an enduring legacy. She explained that he was part designer, part engineer and part mathematical genius and how he encouraged those who worked with him to look beyond what they thought was possible. “This kind of idea that you could make things happen that are extraordinary. Rather than try to solve just a problem, reduce the problem to a simple solution. This was Peter,” said Le Bourva. Also shown on the night was a documentary film featuring interviews with former colleagues, renowned architects, designers, engineers and family members who spoke about the affect that Rice had – and continues to have – on them, professionally as well as personally.

Retired professor of English literature at National University of Ireland Galway, Kevin Barry spoke warmly about Rice during his introduction to the lecture. Barry, who edited the book Traces of Peter Rice, explained how he became drawn to the work of Rice and outlined the reasons, though they were both from very different disciplines, why he became interested in the work of the engineer. “Unusually for an engineer, Peter Rice composed an autobiography. He learnt that he was terminally ill at the age of 56 and died aged 57. He wrote the book An Engineer Imagines, which made it possible for people who weren’t engineers, as well as those who were, to understand [his mindset]. In my case, as someone who’s interested in literature, I was fascinated by this extraordinary Irish autobiography. I think we can safely say that it’s an Irish autobiography like no other,” said Barry.