Richard MacCormac died

Richard MacCormac died

Richard’s funeral was earlier this month… So very sad. He died shortly after his wife Jocasta; both fought the cancer but could not win. Richard was 75.

I can’t express how thankful I am to Richard. When we met for the first time, I ran a small lighting design practice in Amsterdam. It was 1997, and Richard was very proud that we had met each other over the internet; he told it to everybody. It made him feel just so snazzy! Richard was looking for a lighting designer for the Wellcome Wing at the Science Museum, and invited me to present myself and my work. Me, not knowing what to expect, brought slides (we did not have a video projector at that time) from the opera “La Fedelta Premiata” by Joseph Haydn. I had designed the lighting as a deep blue backdrop, with the soprano in bright orange in front of it, wearing a custom made crown with little lights.

Richard loved the images of the opera, in particular the deep blue. We discovered that we share a real passion for that magic, electric blue that is slightly disturbing because the human eye is so insensitive to it. That day I got to know Richard’s unique intelligence, broad cultural interest, and incredible curiosity to everything and everyone, not to mention his great ability to share and to inspire. Richard was genuinely interested in my ideas like no one was before. We talked the rest of the day about blue and orange, about James Turrell and how we would work on the Wellcome Wing. We started a collaboration and friendship that continued until this year.

In his cosy studio on 9 Heneage Street he would make coffee himself, with a French press coffee pot. Spitalfields it is, the place where everyone seems to know Richard and where he found his love Jocasta, who moved in next door. Sometimes I had soup with them in her kitchen; Jocasta curiously asking about life in Amsterdam, and Richard just watching her, and loving her. For the Science Museum, in the meantime we designed ‘The Big Blue Space’ as we called it, and Richard could always open up your mind for something new. He was passionate about developing a way to detail and execute the lighting design very precisely.

He phoned every day, and between his studio and my atelier in Amsterdam we created a series of scale models to explore the interaction of light, space and a newly designed material: a fiber glass, translucent scrim, floating in front of the concrete walls, the gap being filled with light of Richard’s favorite, deep blue colour. Richard came several times to Amsterdam, to work in our lab: looking through 1 meter long card board tubes we took an “isolated view” on exhibitry, slowly increasing the amount of blue light until Richard detected it and said “stop”! We then measured the blue illuminance and used those numbers to further develop the louver system for the facade. Who had ever designed a building that way!

And thanks to Richard, there were many of such crafted design methods; they were developed on a daily base I’d say. I think it is his real appreciation for the sensory world and bringing that to modern architecture that characterises Richard’s work. Throughout the project, he was incredibly productive, and Richard’s drive and inspiring collaboration meant we even created a model of (a part of) the Wellcome Wing scaled 1:5, so we could witness the interaction of all the details we developed. We put it up in his lobby, where Richard called it “The Big Architect’s Killer” (it looked like a giant version of a blue light insect killer of the type you find at the butcher’s). It was his humour and self irony that could always brighten up any situation, and Richard’s charm meant that everyone wanted to collaborate with him, or be nearby him at least.

We completed Richard’s Wellcome Wing and continued working on many projects together: an exhibition in the John Soane Museum, work for Tate Modern, for Tate Britain, advise on his projects such as the deep blue Southwark tube station with Alexander Beleschenko, and of course the Broadcasting House, the building that allowed BBC to consolidate in the centre of London. We designed – in Richard’s beloved deep blue – one of the most holistic and integrated lighting schemes, see the photograph of Richard above, taken in my Amsterdam atelier in 2002. It is a shame that the project did not end favourable for Richard. He got sacked, because he stood strong for his principles, and moreover for his people. Richard’s point was that it was unbearable and disrespectful to his people to be confronted with over 300 design changes and probably as many budget cuts. It characterises Richard, that this year he phoned me up to ask to write BBC, and explain them what their building lighting could have been. For Richard, that was natural, he did exactly what he did so many times before: working without compromises, and not giving up. An architect’s architect, who did defend his principles and his wonderful ethic until the very end.

When we presented a talk together, in London or elsewhere, 15 minutes before curtain up Richard always suggested to rush to a nearby pub and have a glass of wine… Or two. Also as a speaker, Richard was very gifted, with natural charm and intelligence. He made an effort to always engage his audience. Even in that sense I have learnt a lot from Richard. Oh and he recently wrote a book, two houses in Spitalfields, about the homes of Jocasta and himself. Next to each other and filled with illusion, and so many stories… With secret doors connecting them and with the many colours that Jocasta brought to Richard’s life.

And friend is now dead. I miss Richard MacCormac dearly; I am just so thankful to him. It is by no means exaggerated when I say that my career as a lighting designer has been defined by Richard’s presence and involvement early on. It makes him one of the most special people. Thank you, Richard, and I am happy that for you being in heaven, the sky is always blue.


One Response

  1. Will MacCormac says:

    I’ve just found this now; thank you for writing such a lovely piece.

    A little story
    A couple of years ago my father inexplicably bought a fancy internet ready TV – the supplied 3D specs were promptly eaten by Jocasta’s dog and anyway, the only thing he watched on it was BBC1 (news at 10) . Then one evening, after previous failed attempts to interest him in TED Talks, Richard suddenly became very animated – he’d spotted you! So there we go, the silly TV wasn’t for nothing; we both sat on the floor that night, watching your fascinating talk.

    Best wishes

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