Joseph Rykwert Receives the 2014 Royal Gold Medal for architecture

Fri. 20 September

Professor Emeritus Joseph Rykwert has been named as the recipient of the 2014 RIBA Royal Gold Medal--one of the world’s most prestigious architecture awards.

joseph rykwert

LONDON—The celebrated architectural critic, historian and writer Joseph Rykwert, Paul Philippe Cret Professor Emeritus of Architecture; Professor of Art History at the University of Pennsylvania School of Design, has been named as the recipient of the 2014 RIBA Royal Gold Medal--one of the world’s most prestigious architecture awards.

Given in recognition of a lifetime’s work, the Royal Gold Medal is approved personally by Her Majesty the Queen and is given to a person or group of people who have had a significant influence “either directly or indirectly on the advancement of architecture”. 

Professor Rykwert is a world-leading authority on the history of art and architecture; his groundbreaking ideas and work have had a major impact on the thinking of architects and designers since the 1960s and continue to do so to this day.

His seminal book The Idea of a Town (1963) remains the pivotal text on understanding why and how cities were and can be formed. He has written numerous influential works of architectural criticism and history, published over a sixty-year period and translated into several languages. The most significant of these are On Adam's House in Paradise (1972), The First Moderns (1980), The Necessity of Artifice (1982), The Dancing Column: On Order in Architecture (1996), and The Seduction of Place (2002); all have changed the way modern architects and planners think about cities and buildings, and how historians view the architectural roots of the modern era.

Rykwert’s works have influenced generations of architects with many either having been taught by him directly or taught in a school where his influence has had a profound effect on a department’s teaching.  Distinguished architects David Chipperfield, Frank Gehry and Renzo Piano are amongst the previous Royal Gold Medallists who have personally supported Joseph’s nomination.

Professor Rykwert said about his selection for the Royal Gold Medal: 

“’If we all had our desserts', the poet asked, 'who would scape a whipping?' Certainly not I. So I can't think of a Gold Medal as my dessert. It is a wonderful gift which my colleagues have made me and adds weight and authority to my words to which they could never otherwise pretend.

“What makes the gift doubly precious is that it does not come from my fellow-scriveners, but from architects and builders - and suggests that what I have written has engaged their attention and been of use, even though I have never sought to be impartial but have taken sides, sometimes combatively. So I feel both elated and enormously grateful.”

RIBA President Stephen Hodder said Wednesday, “The recognition of Joseph with this prestigious award is long overdue; that it has gone to a man whose writings have provided inspiration to so many who practice in the heart of our cities, gives me particular personal pleasure. Joseph's writing and teaching are rare in that he can deliver the most profound thinking on architecture in an accessible way. All our lives are the richer for it.”

Born in Warsaw in 1926, Professor Rykwert is a naturalized British citizen. He has held a number of university teaching posts in Britain and the United States. He is currently Paul Philippe Cret Professor of Architecture Emeritus and was Professor of Art History at the University of Pennsylvania.

Professor Rykwert has lectured or taught at most of the world’s major schools of architecture and has held visiting appointments at Princeton, the Cooper Union, New York, Harvard Graduate School of Design, the University of Sydney, Louvain, the Institut d'Urbanisme, Paris, the Central European University and others.  He has held fellowships at the Center for Advanced Studies in the Visual Arts, Washington and the Getty Center for the History of Art and the Humanities. 

He joins previous theorists and largely non-practitioners to have been honoured with the Royal Gold Medal including Colin Rowe (1995), Sir John Summerson (1976) and Sir Nikolaus Pevsner (1967).

Professor Rykwert will be presented with the 2014 Royal Gold Medal at a special event at the RIBA at 66 Portland Place, London W1 on February 25, 2014. 

In his citation to Professor Rykwert, Eric Parry notes:

Now in his eighty-seventh year Joseph Rykwert’s body of published work is by any standard extraordinary in its consistent intensity, relevance and on-going influence. We too easily take for granted the way in which he has enriched of today’s debate about our environment when confronted by the span of his career…. Joseph’s principal books have changed the way architects, planners and urban theorists think about buildings and cities and more fundamentally how historians view the architectural roots of our era.

Frances Yates, a student contemporary of his at the Warburg Institute and a brilliant scholar, praised The First Moderns lavishly. “The range of Rykwert's learning is enormous. History of gardens, Chinese influences, festival architecture, all contribute to the overflowing wealth. Great figures in the history of thought and science — Bacon, Newton, Vico — are seen from new angles....This is no superficial history of styles, no conventional history of ideas. It invigorates both through the attempt at a new kind of history of architecture.”

Amongst those who figure in the acknowledgements for The First Moderns are some of his students Yoshihige Akahosi, David Leatherbarrow, Solomon Kaufman, Mohsen Mostafavi and Alberto Perez Gomez. Their subsequent careers, and many, many others, are witness to the fertile ground he helped to create for them.

...Let 
the last words of this citation be Susan Sontag’s: “Joseph Rykwert is a gloriously erudite ingeniously speculative historian and critic of architecture – of that is, the forms (in the most concrete sense) of civilization, of social embodiment itself.”

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