After winning the 2009 World Architecture Festival’s World Building of the Year for the Mapungubwe Interpretation Centre, well-known South African architect Peter Rich developed a significant international profile.

Peter Rich’s take on being awarded the 2009 World Building of the Year is humbling and offers a glance into his philosophy and his method. “The award reaffirmed that we need to stay small, which we find very rewarding,” he says. “This has also helped us know when to say no.”

Despite this, the award signalled global support for the work of Peter Rich Architects and the innovative project team behind the Mapungubwe Interpretation Centre. Rich has received a number of accolades in recognition of his contribution to architecture, including being made an honourary fellow of the American Institute of Architects and a 2015 International Fellow of the Royal Institute of British Architects.

Rich was also asked to return to the World Architecture Festival this year as a member of the super jury led by Richard Rogers, tasked with awarding the World Building of the Year.

Architecture is fully integrated into Rich’s life. His small practice has always been based at his Parktown, Johannesburg home, and two of his sons have studied architecture and often work with him on projects.

In the last five years, much of Rich’s work has happened outside of South Africa, with projects in Tanzania, Ethiopia, Rwanda and the United States. As a result, Rich has had to be innovative with regards to the types of partnerships he develops around projects. The Light Earth Design (LED) partnership with Timothy Hall and Michael Ramage is a good example of this.

Rich says the power of the partnership is in the constant critical feedback you receive from colleagues: “The discussion is just more rich,” he says. “You get to throw the ball backwards and forwards.”

Commenting on the state of the architectural profession in South Africa, Rich remains vocal. He refers to “the lure of the BMW” as a difficult challenge for many to overcome. Rich says it’s important that “you stand your ground and fight for your own terms”, and quotes Pancho Gueddes, a modernist master and mentor: “Just go out there, do a few jobs and learn the hard way – you don’t need an experienced firm to hold  your hand.”

Rich’s experience of running his firm was not always easy. “There’s always a price you pay for your autonomy,” he says, but it’s the best scale for him to practice. “I don’t want to be in a situation where I’m employing people to do what I enjoy doing because I’m managing a practice – I mean why?”