Architecture, art and movies – Ray Phillips of SSH on design philosophy

Ray Phillips-ACH

The art of Rembrandt and Van Meer and the movies of Ridley Scott are both influences of the creations of SSH architect Ray Phillips who feels it is important that visitors are led on a journey through any building he designs.

He outlined his philosophy when it comes to envisaging a new structure using the art and film analogies.

“Buildings should contain both highlights and background. The highlights should lead you through a building and can be large or small,” said Phillips.


“One of my favourite paintings is a Van Meer because the artist leads you through a room to the canal side, simply by using three carefully placed orange highlights within the scene. Rembrandt, in a similar way, would often focus a shaft of light to illuminate a focal part of a painting allowing some of it to fade into the background.

“Ridley Scott, film director, uses many of the same techniques to create magic through the use of light. A building well designed has often involved an architect in employing the same techniques.”

Phillips said that light has always been used for “magical effect”.

He explained: “Great painters used it to make highlights sparkle or to capture a mood of someone sitting in a window reading a book. With sunlight pouring through. Disney used it to make animations glitter and water glint and catch the light.

“Ridley Scott uses it to great effect to make the viewer of his movies suspend belief Sometimes the sunlight in his scenes appears to come from seven suns. Architects are able to use this natural phenomenon with equal success. All it takes is imagination.”

Phillips adopts a rule he calls “Five Things Not To Touch” when he starts on a project and ensures these fundamental elements are not changed during any project.

He said: “When setting out to design a building one always tries to imagine the key features that are the essential elements of design. They might be the view towards the entrance or breathe taking views on the journey, they are the important highlights. They are achieved by thinking in a holistic way from the outset, an architect must then safeguard those same important elements of a building from the ravages of value engineering. “

He said the balance of retaining flexibility on some parts of the building is vital. “The background for example, whilst always preserving the highlights is what sets outstanding architecture apart from well-designed buildings. I believe that this approach enables a concept design to flex without breaking when transformed into a structure.”

Phillips said there are comparisons can be made between Dubai and New York in its formative years “One of the things that I love about Dubai is its freshness and the opportunity that affords. The exuberance it portrays would be very similar to that exhibited by an early New York. A place that over time will mellow, adapt and become a significant world city.”

He said Dubai has great infrastructure, which he called the glue that holds everything together. He said he felt there are many structures that are not possible to build in developed cities because they are already too dense.

“But in Dubai that isn’t a barrier to creativity so it’s easy to imagine towers in excess of a killometre tall because in addition to the ambition it has the infrastructure and space to support such a feat of design and build.”

Phillips said that as more people live in cities that continue to grow, eventually they will form mega cities, where one place morphs into another. But he felt this could present a problem in that  it then becomes a struggle to identify one place against its neighbour.

But he offered a solution – the creation of open spaces, the development of waterfronts, the redevelopment of old warehouses for interesting new uses and the renovation of historic districts all help in this identification.

“These make them places where people want to live and work. The development of cultural buildings can play a large part in restoring or giving identity to a city. An example of this is the effect of the Frank Gehry building in Bilbao transforming the city.

“Governments play an important role in guiding city planning. Cities need robust infrastructure that sets the framework for iconic as well as pragmatic buildings. Not everything should be a highlight, backgrounds are equally important as foregrounds.”

This entry was posted in Architects, People. Bookmark the permalink.

Add a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *