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Kevin James Rice (1932–2011)

by Malcolm Brown

Kevin Rice was more than just a great architect. His horizons extended beyond mere buildings – however expertly and inventively designed – to conservation and commercial harmony.

The legacy of his career in Sydney, which began when he returned from London in 1960, was a city with buildings the likes of the HSBC Tower (previously Coopers & Lybrand) in George Street and the Zenith Centre in Chatswood, and others such as the Queen Victorian Building, restored from a dilapidated state to become heritage gems. Other major projects include the Sacred Heart Hospice in Darlinghurst and Liverpool Hospital.

Rice served for several years on the Heritage Council of NSW. He was NSW chapter president of the Australian Institute of Architects in 1986 when the President's Award went to the former NSW deputy premier, Jack Ferguson, for his contribution to preservation of such buildings as the Mint and Hyde Park Barracks. Rice said: ''His willingness to entertain ideas and his encouragement of their development enabled projects to proceed which, without his political will, may never have come about.''

Kevin James Rice was born in Waverley on June 8, 1932, the only child of a commercial artist, Henry Rice, and a society seamstress, Mercia (Merle, nee Shea). Rice attended Waverley College and then enrolled at the University of NSW to study architecture. In 1955, he was one of the university's first architecture graduates, with honours, then went to work as an architect in England and Norway. He married an English woman, Teresa (Terry) Turner-Nash, in London. On returning to Sydney, Rice got a job researching building techniques for Civil & Civic.

The Rices renovated a home on Cremorne Point. Living on Mosman Bay, Rice developed his love of sailing, and with a fellow architect, Peter Zalai, entered the 1963 Sydney-Hobart Yacht Race in Gemini, a Vandestadt Black Soo and the tiniest boat ever to compete. Loaded with tins of tomato soup and seen off by furiously disapproving wives, they got as far as Eden before having to withdraw. When they radioed in their position, race controllers plotted them as being in Goulburn.

Rice left Civil & Civic and joined Oser Fombertaux & Associates before establishing Fombertaux Rice Hanley. In 1976, the same year he was awarded an MBA, he founded Rice Daubney Architects to design educational, health, retail and commercial buildings. The firm started with a staff of four. Ten years later it was one of the largest groups of its kind in Australia, employing 150 people and handling projects worth $1 billion. It was responsible for many landmarks around Sydney.

For the work he and two partners did on the Queen Victorian Building, Rice shared the Sir John Sulman Prize for Architecture in 1987.

His company pioneered the use of a new glazing system for multi-storey buildings. The group was forward-thinking in other ways, foreseeing a shift away from high-rise office towers to lower-scale, more personalised buildings. It expanded its services to include consultancies in retail planning and office fit-out.

Rice's wisdom was now being sought in other areas. In 1987 he joined the NSW Higher Education Advisory Committee and became its chairman.

Sadly, in 1988, Terry, a lawyer, died of cancer. In 1990, Rice left Rice Daubney to work as a consultant in business development and an independent director in building-related fields. ''There is a clear role today for people who can assess opportunities and risks in the property market,'' he said.

His job would involve helping to settle disputes and avoid litigation. Companies, particularly overseas groups, generally relied on consultants in a wide range of disciplines for advice on property decisions, he said. But so often those seeking advice did not ask the right questions at the right time and the answers they got were not accurately evaluated or co-ordinated.

In 1982, Rice was elected to the NSW chapter of the Australian Institute of Architects and served as its president from 1986 to 1988. In 1991, he was appointed advisory committee chairman of the CSIRO Division of Building Construction and Engineering. In October that year he married the author, editor and journalist Jillian McFarlane. In 1995, he became a visiting professor at the University of Sydney, and in 2000, adjunct professor.

He was a long-time member of the Royal Sydney Yacht Squadron and Sydney Amateur Sailing Club, and raced his yacht, a Northshore 38 called Passepartout, for more than 20 years.

In his semi-retirement, Rice was still busy. He was retained by the NSW Supreme Court as a referee and expert in property and construction matters, and by the NSW Department of Fair Trading, in 2005, in a review of licensing in the NSW Home Building Industry. He negotiated the provisions of the NSW Architects Act on behalf of the profession, and presided over disciplinary hearings at the Architects Registration Board. In recent years he was a member of the Heritage Council and the boards of St Vincent's Hospital and Waverley College.

Rice was an associate of the Royal Institute of British Architects, a life fellow of the Royal Australian Institute of Architects, and received the Alumni Award from the University of NSW. In 2004 he was awarded a Medal of the Order of Australia (OAM) for his service to architecture.

The first home that Rice designed for himself was a beach house at Mackerel Beach, where he and Jillian relaxed and gardened. For recreation, he did a three-year oil-painting course with the Charlie Sheard Studio School and his paintings were exhibited in 2008, 2009 and last year. He loved art and design, antique silver, the English language, reading, theatre and opera, and travel, and was passionate about sports, especially rugby union and cricket.

Kevin Rice is survived by Jillian, his sons Simon, Dominic, Crispin and Jeremy, stepchildren Campbell and Justine, and 12 grandchildren.

Original publication

Additional Resources

Citation details

Malcolm Brown, 'Rice, Kevin James (1932–2011)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, accessed 23 April 2024.

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