Museums Obituaries United Kingdom

Rick Mather, the architect who transformed the Ashmolean, has died aged 75

The architect “understood the need to create intriguing vistas” through his sensitive expansion of museums

Rick Mather, photographed by Theo Chalmers, in 2009 with a model of the Ashmolean

The list of UK museums that have been transformed by the architect Rick Mather is distinguished: the Dulwich Picture Gallery, National Maritime Museum and Wallace Collection in London and the Ashmolean in Oxford, the latter perhaps Mather’s masterpiece. Each gained much needed space in a way that new and old formed an elegant marriage. He also designed the Towner in Eastbourne, a gallery for Modern and contemporary art that rises like a gleaming white cliff alongside the coastal town’s grey 1960s Congress Theatre.

At the Ashmolean, the Mather-designed extension is significantly larger than the museum’s original 1845 building but the modern extension never feels overbearing. Christopher Brown, the museum’s director, praises Mather’s special sensitivity when dealing with historic buildings, adding: “He understood (better than me) the need to create intriguing vistas through the museum linking collections in a revealing and illuminating manner.”

The Virginia Museum of Fine Arts was Mather's first US project. There he placed a sculpture garden on top of a car park (the architect’s London garden was also rooftop) while almost doubling the size of the institution in Richmond. Mather’s second US commission is a work in progress: the expansion of the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, due to be completed in 2017.

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26 Apr 13
14:57 CET


I did not know Mr Mather as a friend or client, but was involved with him, over several months, on a pre-planning process for an academic building in Liverpool. Arriving early one day for a meeting, I happened to mention to him that I was building a red cedar deck at my house. He showed as much interest and passion in this as he did his project. And please do believe me when I say that I saw real passion in his project, especially when a council officer started to draw some amendments on his elevations. This did not go down well at all!! My small DIY project seemed to strike a chord with his growing up amongst the cedar woods and houses of Oregon, and he was keen to offer advice and guidance on what I was doing and how. I've not forgotten this small and irrelevant moment, and because of this I won’t forget him either. It’s true that he left a wonderful legacy and did some great things. But he also knew how to do small things.

25 Apr 13
23:6 CET


"I believe it's Rick Mather's finest building to date, and I have no doubt it'll be recognised very soon as one of the outstanding museum buildings of the 21st century," Christopher Brown, Ashmolean Museum Director. As someone whose first post after graduating was at the Ashmolean more than twenty year ago, and having visited their stunning new galleries, just last month, I would like to echo the Museum Director's words, but to add, Rick Mather was also an outstanding architect with a powerful aesthetic, whose projects in Oxford alone are a pleasure to experience. He will be deeply missed.

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