Ingrid Richards

The fabric of a city – the pavements we stroll on each day and the buildings we inhabit – forms an integral part of our relationship with the place we live in, and how we identify with it and even ourselves. After working on a number of public buildings, including the James St Market and the upcoming refurbishment of Brisbane Airport’s International Terminal, architect Ingrid Richards doesn’t take her responsibility as an architect lightly. Driven to continually build upon her body of work, alongside her partner Adrian Spence, Ingrid is passionate about building a city that Brisbane’s denizens can be proud of. 

Good design doesn’t need to be questioned. It’s always there, and you may not even notice it, simply because it works so well. This is how architect Ingrid Richards approaches design when creating a building, so that the experience of interacting with it is natural and seamless. Architecture is never far from Ingrid’s mind, but she wasn’t always so set on becoming an architect. Growing up in Upper Brookfield and attending a local primary school with just 30 students, Ingrid admits that, through osmosis, she considered architecture to be a dry and boring profession. She was an impressionable youngster, and instead she entertained a number of other childhood dreams, which ranged from becoming a firefighter to a forensic scientist (a career she envisioned after watching a few too many episodes of Quincy, M.E.).

As she got older, she became more interested in the arts, and wanted a career with a social conscience. “Architecture seems obvious,” she explains. “But as a young person, I hadn’t been exposed to particularly good buildings – Upper Brookfield doesn’t have them and the local shopping centres weren’t inspirational in any way – and so lacking that local inspiration, I had this idea of it as drawing straight lines on a sheet of paper and that architecture would be very boring.”

It wasn’t until one of her friends started studying architecture that Ingrid became interested in it, and, after some convincing from her friend, she decided to enrol in the course. “It was kind of a slow burn for me,” she recalls of how she came to fall in love with architecture. “I kind of fell in to it as a course and became more interested the more I participated in it.” Filled with ambition, Ingrid took a graduate architect position with Cox Rayner Architects when she finished university. She remembers her time there fondly, recalling the satisfaction of completing her first project. “The first building I was project architect on was the James St Market,” she reminisces. “It’s very humbling and it felt like an incredibly exhausting process, but at the end of the day you just feel so proud of it.”

The experience of working on the market planted an idea in Ingrid’s head that she wanted to continue to shape Brisbane through the design of its public buildings. “It led me to this idea that we only get a limited number of buildings in which we can be involved in our time,” she recalls. “And the thing with that marketplace is that it’s my local shops, so it has this ongoing value for me personally. So it kind of struck me in a direction of buildings that have a public nature to them.”

While she was working at Cox Rayner Architects, she met a likeminded architect, Adrian Spence, through mutual friends. He was working with Bligh Voller Architects at the time and, after instantly hitting it off, the pair started dating. After they had been together for five years, and were coming home each night to chat about the projects they were working on, Ingrid and Adrian began to consider working together. Architecturally their ideas aligned, and they served as a continual source of inspiration to one another, and so starting their own practice seemed to be a natural progression.

“It was certainly a big change,” Ingrid recalls of starting Richards & Spence. “I loved my job and I had been there for ten years, but I think at some point it seemed like the logical thing to do and it would have been hard to imagine not doing it with Adrian.” Working with the one you love might seem like a challenge, but for the duo it comes naturally. Architecture is woven so tightly into their lives that there is little distinction between home and work.But Ingrid explains that it’s their shared perspective and experiences of work and travel that enable them to work so well together. There are some issues that follow them home – and back into the office the next day if a resolution isn’t found – but for the most part, it’s excited, animated chatter about both work and life that takes place around their dinner table.

In the eight years since they started Richards & Spence, Ingrid and Adrian have worked on a number of public buildings, including the Nineteen James development, and their next big project is the refurbishment of Brisbane Airport’s International Terminal. As part of the team working on the project, which also includes Arkhefield and GHD, Ingrid and Adrian have created a design that identifies with Brisbane in a nuanced way.

It’s an important project for Ingrid, because she wants to create a legacy from the buildings she designs – one that will help shape the identity of Brisbane as a city.

“In order for buildings to form part of a collective consciousness for people who live in a city, they have to be around long enough to have some effect on people,” she says. “So making buildings that can perform across generations is really important in a city maturing. It’s playing our part in making Brisbane a better, more livable city. Perhaps by buildings being logical, legible and long-lasting, it will help to create a precedent for other buildings that perhaps are less focused on fashion and more focused on something that will be there for the long haul.”

It’s also fitting that she is working on the terminal, as travel forms such a large part of her  inspiration. Even when she and Adrian are on holidays, it’s always a working vacation spent looking at buildings and considering the different ways that people live.

When work does eventually stop and Ingrid’s mind is given the chance to wander, she finds inspiration in the people around her, explaining that simple things – such as watching the ways people interact in different settings – fascinate her. She also takes time each day to exercise – a pursuit that gives her clarity and peace.

That peace doesn’t usually last for too long, however, as Ingrid is always striving towards a new goal. “Contentment is something that I can’t even imagine,” she says. “It suggests not striving for something, and that you have reached a certain place that I don’t think ever exists. It’s always about finding a new goal and finding a way to meet it. I think success is continued interest in life.”

Her confidence to chase her dreams is what propels Ingrid forward, and she shares that self-belief is the key to success. “Sometimes you are the one who has thought the most about the issue and you are the best person to make the decision,” she explains. “At the end of the day, in the context of architecture, if you design something that’s robust and well considered, people will come to like it, even if it’s not what they were expecting at first. And it’s true of everything in life.”

– This article was published in map magazine.