Inside Story: Mark Ritchie

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Kiwi Mark Ritchie is an architect in Canada. Here, he sits outside his Vancouver home.

Kiwi Mark Ritchie is an architect in Canada. Here, he sits outside his Vancouver home. Image: Andrew Querner

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Mark Ritchie perches in his lounge; the kitchen features clean, white lines and plenty of bench space.

Mark Ritchie perches in his lounge; the kitchen features clean, white lines and plenty of bench space. Image: Andrew Querner

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The home-owners don’t shy away from the occasional pop of colour, both inside and out.

The home-owners don’t shy away from the occasional pop of colour, both inside and out. Image: Andrew Querner

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Ritchie describes his four-bedroom home as “a bit like a Kiwi bach”.

Ritchie describes his four-bedroom home as “a bit like a Kiwi bach”. Image: Andrew Querner

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Ritchie says he and his wife, Lisa, "chose Vancouver because of friends and the climate, and because it’s closest to New Zealand”.

Ritchie says he and his wife, Lisa, “chose Vancouver because of friends and the climate, and because it’s closest to New Zealand”. Image: Andrew Querner

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Ritchie’s favourite things – Cocktail shaker:
"I’m not sure why it’s taken so long for me to discover cocktails but a good friend, who’s a talented cocktail-maker, gifted me this shaker. It’s opened the door to hours of possibilities."

Ritchie’s favourite things – Cocktail shaker: “I’m not sure why it’s taken so long for me to discover cocktails but a good friend, who’s a talented cocktail-maker, gifted me this shaker. It’s opened the door to hours of possibilities.” Image: Andrew Querner

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Polish pottery: "We own a fair amount of this: a legacy from when Lisa lived and worked in Poland in the early ’90s. It links me to Lisa’s life before she met me."

Polish pottery: “We own a fair amount of this: a legacy from when Lisa lived and worked in Poland in the early ’90s. It links me to Lisa’s life before she met me.” Image: Andrew Querner

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Bialetti coffee maker: "I bought this small Bialetti in Sardinia in 2008 during a family trip before moving to Canada. It reminds me of the major changes we were taking on at the time. Plus, it makes a great espresso."

Bialetti coffee maker: “I bought this small Bialetti in Sardinia in 2008 during a family trip before moving to Canada. It reminds me of the major changes we were taking on at the time. Plus, it makes a great espresso.” Image: Andrew Querner

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Leather belt: "My brother John has dabbled in leatherwork all his life. He made this belt for me when I was 10 and he was 17. Sadly, it doesn’t fit any more but it’s a real treasure."

Leather belt: “My brother John has dabbled in leatherwork all his life. He made this belt for me when I was 10 and he was 17. Sadly, it doesn’t fit any more but it’s a real treasure.” Image: Andrew Querner

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Owl: "We found this in the garden of our first home in Vancouver and it’s one of the few items that has made it into our new house. I see this owl as a kind of guardian of the property, no matter who lives here in the future."

Owl: “We found this in the garden of our first home in Vancouver and it’s one of the few items that has made it into our new house. I see this owl as a kind of guardian of the property, no matter who lives here in the future.” Image: Andrew Querner

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Family photo: "This was taken in 1957 at my mother’s 21st birthday and now hangs on our kitchen wall. It features three generations – my mother, grandmother and great grandmother – and is a daily reminder of amazing women."

Family photo: “This was taken in 1957 at my mother’s 21st birthday and now hangs on our kitchen wall. It features three generations – my mother, grandmother and great grandmother – and is a daily reminder of amazing women.” Image: Andrew Querner

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Batik cloth: "This was on the wall of my childhood home in Karori and takes me back to that time and place. Lisa tolerates it because she knows how connected to it I am."

Batik cloth: “This was on the wall of my childhood home in Karori and takes me back to that time and place. Lisa tolerates it because she knows how connected to it I am.” Image: Andrew Querner

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Pig: "I made this ceramic model when I was eight or nine and it’s been with me ever since. It’s one of the earliest memories I have of feeling that I might have some kind of creative sensibility."

Pig: “I made this ceramic model when I was eight or nine and it’s been with me ever since. It’s one of the earliest memories I have of feeling that I might have some kind of creative sensibility.” Image: Andrew Querner

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Best dad award: "My younger son Dylan made this for my birthday. It’s a clever manual movie device that reads 'award for best dad'. It’s one of my favourite possessions."

Best dad award: “My younger son Dylan made this for my birthday. It’s a clever manual movie device that reads ‘award for best dad’. It’s one of my favourite possessions.” Image: Andrew Querner

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Chiminea: "A friend gave me this mid-century chiminea to celebrate the completion of our home in 2014. It has become a kind of rusting sculpture in our courtyard garden."

Chiminea: “A friend gave me this mid-century chiminea to celebrate the completion of our home in 2014. It has become a kind of rusting sculpture in our courtyard garden.” Image: Andrew Querner

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Wellington-born Canadian architect Mark Ritchie opens the door to his bach-inspired home in Vancouver to show us the objects he loves.

It was love that brought Wellington-born architect Mark Ritchie to Canada. But it’s work that’s kept him there. 

The love part came in the form of wife Lisa Mingo, a Canadian he met in Singapore in 1998 (the couple has two sons, now 15 and 12). The work component is Architecture Building Culture, the firm Ritchie (51) started with an American colleague in 2011. 

From his office in Vancouver, the snow-quilted North Shore mountains filling his windows, Ritchie lends his talents to small-scale commercial, single-family and affordable housing. His seven-person firm also has a sweet tooth for luxury residences, including one they’re currently working on in Fiji.

Not bad for someone who originally went into architecture because he was “halfway decent at art and mathematics” at Wellington College.

“Victoria University’s School of Architecture felt like a natural direction,” admits Ritchie. “Although it quickly became evident that art and mathematics are a very small part of the picture. Design is the primary skill of an architect and I realised it would take a lot of time and effort to become good at it.”

Ritchie describes his four-bedroom home as “a bit like a Kiwi bach”. Image:  Andrew Querner

He obviously succeeded because the ink on his degree was barely dry when Ritchie landed a role with Wellington firm Craig Craig Moller (the precursor of Moller Architects) where he worked on his alma mater’s downtown campus on Vivian Street. During a backpacking trip, he fell in love with Asia and eventually circled back to Singapore where he spent six years at Kerry Hill Architects, designing everything from Singapore’s National Library Building to resorts in Kuala Lumpur, and even a house for the Malaysian Prime Minister’s son.

But the end-game was always to chart his own direction and, in 2003, Mark Ritchie Architecture was launched in Wellington. As well as working on residential and commercial projects across New Zealand, Ritchie was senior lecturer at Victoria University. 

But, after six years, he made a sharp left turn. “I was ready for a change and Lisa was happy to return to Canada, as long as it wasn’t to Winnipeg, where she’s from. We chose Vancouver because of friends and the climate, and because it’s closest to New Zealand.”

Ritchie says he and his wife, Lisa, “chose Vancouver because of friends and the climate, and because it’s closest to New Zealand”. Image:  Andrew Querner

Ritchie’s arrival coincided with the GFC, which, under usual circumstances, wouldn’t be a positive. But the planets aligned when his friend Brian Cavanaugh, an American architect with whom he’d previously worked in New Zealand, was made redundant from a large Seattle practice.

“Our firm was born out of the recession. I run the office in Canada, while Brian works out of Portland, Oregon, but geography hasn’t stopped us from working together on every project. We see it as a kind of new-age practice model and an opportunity to develop a different approach to architecture.”

In between working as a design critic and guest lecturer at Toronto’s Ryerson University, Ritchie also designed his own four-bedroomed home, which he describes as “a bit like a Kiwi bach”.

And, although there are no immediate plans to return to New Zealand, Ritchie says you can’t take the Kiwi out of the boy.

“New Zealand has a new-world culture of experimentation, of looking for new ways to solve traditional problems, which has served me well in the North American market. Kiwi architects are also very mindful of the relationship between interiors and our external environment; this works its way into all our projects.”

This article first appeared in Novelnyt magazine. Subscribe here


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