Richard Ingersoll in Spain. Courtesy his sister Claire Ingersoll Brossman via Stephen Fox.
Richard Ingersoll in Spain. Courtesy his sister Claire Ingersoll Brossman via Stephen Fox.

Richard Ingersoll passed away last month. While teaching at the Rice School of Architecture, he became a regular contributor to Cite, beginning with Cite 19 in 1987. Collected below are remembrances from friends at Rice Architecture and beyond who were fortunate to know him. 

Surpik Angelini, Founding Director, Transart Foundation for Art and Anthropology: I think I can speak of Richard's early college years: the anti-war protests, Berkeley's free speech movement, the Black Panther demonstrations in San Francisco, the Fillmore Auditorium concerts, the draft, the conscientious objections to the Vietnam war, his interrupted studies, and his exiled life as a singer songwriter in Urbino during the violent Anni di piombo (years of lead) in Italy. With such turbulence, it comes as no surprise that Richard's songs were intricately linked to the urban protest ballads of the ‘70s, as he witnessed the violent confrontations between terrorists and the establishment in Italy as well as America’s reckoning with racial injustice and the war in Vietnam. 

Richard's socially engaged song was expressed through a slightly dissonant, raspy, languid melodic line backed by rhythmic acoustic rock and percussion. His gliding poetic lyrics were sung in a perfectly modulated voice that defied the whispered subtlety of his speaking voice. Listening to “Metro,” “Red Tape Machine,” “The Last Debutante,” “Freedom,” and “Roofer” from his 1972 album Red Tape Machine with Anonima Sound Ltd., made me recognize that the principles of social justice which animated Richard’s early life as a songwriter also grounded his later work as an architectural critic, historian, teacher, promoter of urban agriculture (“agricivismo”), and caregiver. Looking back on his life, I believe it would be fitting to talk of his oeuvre when referring to his work, because with Richard, life and work were intricately entwined: Together they exuded an aura mostly associated with art and poetry.

Richard and I became friends from the time he taught at Rice University. Besides our shared interests in architecture and art, we were kindred spirits from the start. We both enjoyed cooking and serenading our friends after dinner. Richard always came through with soulful interpretations of Italian folk songs.

Only now, as I learn more about Richard through his friends’ loving tributes, I realize how parallel our lives were during those early college years. While I was at Mills College, in Oakland, Richard was only a few miles away in Berkeley. Our paths must have crossed many times. Richard's death brings back not only wonderful shared memories but a cascade of common life experiences I wish I had brought up in conversation. A cherished part of me is gone with him.

Richard's beautiful life leaves us with the most sensitive, incisive, and lucid gifts of a soul maker. 

Luis Fernández-Galiano, Editor, Arquitectura Viva and AV MonografíasWith the death of Richard Ingersoll, Arquitectura Viva dies a bit too. AV published his first article in 1987 and his most recent contribution appeared in the issue prior to this current one. Over thirty years of admiration and friendship took place in between, crystallized in nearly a hundred texts that sum up his historical and contemporary interests. These writings often centered on the Italy he chose to spend his adult life in, but also covered a broad register that stretched from architectural theory to social and ecological concerns. His versatility and good disposition made him indispensable in any adventure we undertook, whether it was the Pamplona congresses, the Spain Builds MoMA exhibition, or the Atlas volumes; he could interview Piano with empathy, Herzog with curiosity, and Koolhaas with firmness; with his intelligent and exact prose he sifted the bibliographical canon of the discipline, covered the Venice Biennales of art and architecture, or traveled with the architects when asked to write in our monographs on RCR, Nieto Sobejano, Paredes Pedrosa, Batlle i Roig, or b720 Fermín Vázquez. Nevertheless, his critical excellence pales beside the spiritual elegance of his presence in the world—refined, warm, and austere with the simplicity of a Franciscan aristocrat.

Born into a prominent San Francisco family, young Richard left the university and the country to live a bohemian street singer’s life in Italy, aided by good looks and a great voice with which he rendered Neapolitan melodies. He eventually returned to California to get a PhD in Berkeley under Spiro Kostof, his most enduring intellectual influence. The editorial soul of Design Book Review since 1983, Ingersoll joined the faculty at Rice University and soon left his Houston friends to settle for good in Florence under the auspices of Syracuse University. His house in Montevarchi would, from then on, be the fixed point of his traveling existence, and it was in this Tuscan refuge that he produced his most ambitious work, the monumental World Architecture: A Cross-Cultural History, in which he altogether rewrote the capolavoro of his master Kostof.

In his final years, the connection with Italy became compatible with his love of Spain, which had him spending periods in the house he refurbished in Huebro, a village where he passed away on February 27. After his companion Paola died in October, Richard had left Montevarchi to spend time in Almería with his friend Patrick, but a femur fracture triggered a sequence of calamities that led to a three-week hospital confinement with COVID-19. We spoke several times during this moment; he was very pleased with the success of World Architecture and all he feared was that he might never walk again. Two days before dying he sent a photo of himself on the terrace of his house in Huebro, looking good and “feeling better,” so the news of his passing is as unexpected as it is devastating. Alas, the persistence of his writings is no consolation, because the work into which he best poured his spiritual elegance was no other than his very life.

Stephen Fox, Lecturer, Rice Architecture and University of Houston Gerald D. Hines College of Architecture and Design and Fellow, Anchorage Foundation: Richard Ingersoll, architectural historian, critic, and teacher, died February 27, 2021, in Almería, Andalusía, Spain, from complications of COVID-19. He was 71 years old.

From 1986 until 1997 Ingersoll was Assistant and then Associate Professor of Architecture at Rice University. Lively, inquisitive, with a wry sense of humor and a winning smile, Ingersoll was one of the bright young faculty members recruited during O. Jack Mitchell’s tenure as Dean of the Rice School of Architecture. Like his compatriots Dana Cuff and Albert Pope, Ingersoll came to Rice from California. He and Dana Cuff (as well as visiting critic and future dean Lars Lerup) had studied at the University of California, Berkeley, where Ingersoll completed his Ph.D. in 1985 under the direction of Spiro Kostof.

Ingersoll engaged Houston’s architectural culture, which in the 1980s and 1990s revolved around the Rice Design Alliance’s publication Cite: The Architecture and Design Review of Houston. Ingersoll contributed to Cite frequently, taking on such topics as the Texas Medical Center, Houston’s university campuses, megachurch architecture, and planned communities on the edge. Ingersoll also wrote for Texas Architect, Architecture and its successor Architect, and Harvard Design Magazine, as well as an astonishing array of global architectural publications: Arquitectura Viva and AV Monographs (Spain), Domus, Lotus International, Abitare, and Il Giornale di Architettura (Italy), Bauwelt (Germany), Arquine (México), A+U (Japan), World Architecture (China), and C3 (South Korea).

Born in California, Ingersoll was an Italian at heart. In the 1970s, after initially dropping out of undergraduate studies at Berkeley, he and several American compatriots bought an old stone house in the small town of Montevarchi, between Florence and Arezzo. Ingersoll said that because it was next to the cemetery—an adjacency Italians didn’t find appealing—the run-down house was very cheaply priced. Ingersoll eventually bought his friends out and spent summers, the season he wasn’t teaching in Houston, laboriously rehabilitating the house. Ingersoll’s stone house on via della Loggia became part of his mystique. Guests might find themselves repairing a toppled stone wall, but they were rewarded with Ingersoll’s marvelous cooking and, likely, one or more of the Sicilian ballads he could belt out with bravura, accompanying himself on the guitar. Long after he left Houston, Ingersoll welcomed friends, and friends-of-friends, from Texas to Montevarchi, where he presided over a household of students and assorted others.

The stone house and its profuse kitchen garden were not the only things that prompted Ingersoll to return to Montevarchi. His wife, the poet Paola Nepi, was from Montevarchi. Nepi was afflicted with muscular dystrophy and although she was 78 at the time of her death in October 2020, she was an invalid for much of her life. Teaching in the U.S. but living in Italy eventually proved unsustainable for Ingersoll. When plans for an Italian program affiliated with Rice’s architecture school did not materialize, Ingersoll resigned his tenured professorship. Beginning in 1998, he spent the rest of his career teaching in Syracuse University’s Florence program, in addition to appointments at the Politecnico di Milano, the ETH, Zürich, the Università di Ferrara, and the Universidad de Navarra. His friends were aware of the strain produced by his struggle to earn a living as an adjunct. When not laughing, singing, or working, Ingersoll could lapse into melancholy.

If constant travel was wearying, it did give Ingersoll the opportunity to become by the turn of the twenty-first century one of the world’s most widely recognized and respected architecture critics. In addition to criticism, Ingersoll produced works of architectural history and speculative urbanism. He was asked by Kenneth Frampton to edit the USA-Canada volume of World Architecture: A Critical Mosaic (1999). He was then tasked by Oxford University Press with revising and updating his mentor Kostof’s global survey A History of Architecture: Settings and Rituals (1985). This proved to be a monumental undertaking, with Ingersoll producing what was virtually a new book, World Architecture: A Cross-Cultural History (2012; revised and expanded 2019). Ingersoll’s critical take on the modern city was the provocatively titled Sprawltown: Seeking the City on Its Edges (2006), a work that reflects his experience of Houston as well as exchanges with Lars Lerup and Albert Pope at Rice as each inquired into the processes that produce Houston’s distinctive brand of sub-urbanism.  Ingersoll was editor of the Berkeley-based Design Book Review from 1983 to 1998 and, with Zeynep Çelik and Diane Favro, he edited the book Streets: Critical Perspectives on Public Space (1994). He wrote Munio Gitai Weinraub: Bauhaus Architect in Eretz Israel, was a contributor to Luis Barragán: The Quiet Revolution and Novartis Campus—Fabrikstrasse 12: Vittorio Magnago Lampugnani, and he wrote the introductory essay for TEN Arquitectos about the work of Enrique Norten, Ingersoll also organized exhibitions, including Cities in Motion: Toys and Transport at the Canadian Centre for Architecture in Montréal. He served on the scientific committee of, and produced exhibitions for, the Museo Nivola in Orani, Sardinia, the repository of the work of the sculptor Costantino Nivola, one of Ingersoll’s teachers at Berkeley.


Richard Ingersoll in Spain. Courtesy his sister Claire Ingersoll Brossman via Stephen Fox.
Richard Ingersoll in Spain. Courtesy his sister Claire Ingersoll Brossman via Stephen Fox.

Ingersoll loved teaching and interacting with students. While at Rice he taught architectural studios as well as history seminars. The final review for one of his studios involved students staging performances with their cars at a sequence of parking lots along Westheimer Road. In 1995 Ingersoll took students to Caracas with Latin American architectural historian Roberto Segre while Segre was the Cullinan Visiting Professor at Rice. Alas, Ingersoll and Segre’s project to publish a book comparing Philip Johnson’s Menil House in Houston with the Milanese architect Gio Ponti’s Planchart House in Caracas never came to fruition. Ingersoll last visited Houston in 2009, when Michelangelo Sabatino invited him to speak at the University of Houston. 

During the last two decades, Ingersoll focused more and more on the impact of climate change and architectural responses to it. This commitment cohered with Ingersoll’s life in Montevarchi, and more recently Almería, where he and his friend Patrick Ducasse were working on rehabilitating another old house. When European countries first quarantined in March 2020, Ingersoll was in Almería and had to extend his stay. He wrote:

I made a not very rational decision to go visit a friend in Andalusia, and then a few days later they closed the border, so here I shall stay for at least a month. We're exploiting the time to fix up the landscape, about an acre of terraces with olives, almonds and pomegranates, it's a quite beautiful place. While I regret all of the casualties (90% over 65 by the way, a sort of generational cleansing, to which I belong), the quarantine has had some positive effects: no cars, no planes, no meat. It's just as Greta [Thunberg] asked for. This year we will finally live up to the Paris COP21 agreement! 

Ingersoll’s ability to find solace in the people around him and the places where he happened to be contrasts with the amount of time he also had to spend in vehicles and on planes in search of architecture. Richard Ingersoll did not always seem at peace with the world. But through his writings, as in his life, he constantly sought to make the world a more hospitable and welcoming place.  

Carlos Jiménez, Professor, Rice Architecture and Principal, Carlos Jiménez Studio: In the midst of the chaotic week when Houston’s weather dipped well below freezing, I got a call from a friend in Spain telling me that Richard Ingersoll was in the hospital unable to move his legs. I reached him the next day and we spoke for a few minutes just as he was about to have a biopsy (he had been treated for lymphoma in 2017-18). I found him in good spirits, anxious to get back to his new, beloved house in Almería and also to his teaching. I was heartened to hear his customary warm, soothing voice, which interspersed Italian, Spanish, and English phrases in curious ways. I wished him well on his biopsy and we made plans to talk again the following week.

It’s difficult to now write with some modicum of distance about a loyal friend, colleague, critic, and mentor. Especially when a surge of memories arrives at once, as if to claim that in their urgent parade they might undo even the most irreversible of outcomes. I can see Richard for the first time, sitting on the patio of the Rose Café in Venice, California, lost in thought, patiently waiting for the late-to-arrive Diane Ghirardo and me. Diane wanted to introduce us, as Richard was about to move to Houston to begin his appointment at Rice’s School of Architecture. I was immediately charmed by his graceful manner, with its endearing touch of noblesse oblige. We became fast friends and, once he was partially settled in Houston, we met in the company of both new and known friends. Richard made friends quite easily; it was his natural way of being in the world. I once told him that “since you are a shining light there’s many that you’ll see,” echoing a line from a Leonard Cohen song I love. He smiled with timid appreciation. Richard would often prepare simple Italian meals made even more memorable by his musical pronunciations of, say, “pasta,” or “insalata,” or, better yet, singing one of his songs and accompanying himself on guitar. Richard was Italian to the core. His birth in the United States seemed like a rather forgivable, or perhaps unfortunate, twist of fate.

Richard Ingersoll was a truly generous friend, critic, and mentor to many. I learned this firsthand when he made it possible for me to participate in a Critical Regionalism symposium held at California State Polytechnic University, Pomona, in 1989, and told all his many friends attending that we were representing Houston. After delivering a brilliant talk on the recently opened Menil Collection museum, Richard introduced me to his cadre of illustrious friends, from Liane Lefaivre and Alexander Tzonis to Toshio Nakamura and Luis Fernández-Galiano. I’ve never experienced a more welcoming or expectant prelude to what was then a tentative talk on the three projects that I had built at the time.  Richard’s early advocacy of my work, along with these introductions, proved significant to my academic and professional life.

The Pomona symposium became one of many such encounters in our mutual exploration of people, architecture, and cities—from Houston to Los Angeles, Madrid to Florence, San Francisco to San Lorenzo de El Escorial (where we got to meet our film hero Pedro Almodóvar), Rome to Montevarchi, Pamplona to Olot. Twenty years later, we visited the works of the iconoclastic yet highly prolific architects RCR Arquitectes (Rafael, Carmen, Ramón) in the Catalan province of Girona, commissioned by our faithful friend Luis Fernández-Galiano, director of AV Monographs, to write about their work. I vividly remember Rafael Aranda picking us up at the train station in Barcelona and driving us to Olot. The passenger door had not yet closed when Richard began to deliver one of his many miniature lectures ranging from Catalan separatism to the beauty of Cadaques, from the suburbs of Zaragoza to Enric Miralles and Carme Pinos’ cemetery in Igualada, as we traveled northward. We spent a couple of days basking in the hospitality of RCR, savoring exquisite dishes and wines from the region between a tightly scheduled set of visits to their works. Everything was going well, but Richard could not spend more than one night at RCR’s all-glass hotel next to the architects’ equally celebrated Les Cols Restaurant. It was too much for him. Yet he stoically endured his “imprisonment,” as he described it in the marvelous introductory text, “Children of Vulcan,” that he wrote for the AV Monographs publication about RCR. As we were leaving Girona, I teased him, telling him that he reminded me of “El Licenciado Vidriera” (“The Master Glass”), the hypochondriac character of one of Cervantes’s most memorable Exemplary Novels. With his ever-curious gaze, Richard took note; I imagined he would purchase a copy at the train station to read on his way back to Montevarchi.

I once asked Richard how he started writing a piece. He answered right away that he first needed to locate a title. This gave him the coordinates to not only contain, but transcend, the subject at hand. Around that time, he wrote the text for the Japanese journal A + U featuring a collection of works from my studio that he titled “The Pleasure of Limits.” Across Richard Ingersoll’s voluminous writings there is always a carefully chosen title, a prelude to what turns out to be a piercing narrative, a story imbued with not only critical acumen but also empathy.  Richard’s fearlessness could expose the glorified vanities of such starchitects as Rem Koolhaas like few would dare to attempt, just as he could reveal the subtle layers that bind Renzo Piano’s irrepressible humanity. Every time that I encountered Richard, he was always the same Richard I met that sunny morning at the Rose Café thirty-five years ago. Like all luminous beings, he could not hide the pain behind all that we come to see and experience in the world. As one of my favorite poets puts it: “Behind every beautiful thing there’s been some kind of pain.” Richard possessed a visceral understanding of what architecture, in concert with the city and the all-encompassing environment, could bring into and contribute to the world. In spite of the “squalid mess” that history frequently makes as it forgets or repeats itself, Richard would dutifully remind us that history is always worth knowing, living, and reading. As I recall Richard’s consummate smile, I think there is no better way to honor a life lived to its fullest than to read him. Grazie tanto Riccardo.

More Articles tagged “Architecture + Houston”