Just a week after losing Thomas Gordon Smith, the pathfinding classicist at Notre Dame, the world of architecture mourns the passage of Kristen Richards, the great impresario of architectural news and opinion, who passed away yesterday at age 69, a tragic victim of demon cancer.
Richards had for two decades published a website compiling newspaper and magazine articles on architecture, landscape design and urbanism, in English, from publications around the world. ArchNewsNow (ANN) went out three days a week, with a couple dozen or more articles each day, sent free to some 15,000 subscribers from every corner of the globe. What’s the latest in design? Which starchitect is up? Which starchitect is down? Even headier stuff than all that. Today, Richards would have had her subscribers mainlining the collapse in Surfside. No writer on architecture could afford to be without her dispatches.
Richards founded ANN with the assistance of her husband, the computer wizard George Yates. Subscriptions to ANN were free, but I had no idea she undertook this herculean task voluntarily, with few ways to monetize her work. Richards’s career before starting ANN in 2002 included founding an off-off Broadway theater, acting, founding an art gallery, publicity, editing (until the end, she edited Oculus, the magazine of the New York chapter of the American Institute of Architects), and, early on, modeling – she spent three years in Greece in the late ’70s and became a Greek version of the Breck Girl – a poster, which I failed to locate, was published with her obituary in the New York Times.
In his tribute to Richards in today’s Architectural Record, Fred A. Bernstein describes her workday, rising early in the morning to start hoovering material (using software developed by Yates) from publications in 20 countries:
She read every article, decided which ones to bring to her readers’ attention, and then organized them into a daily dispatch, complete with summaries written with lightning speed.
I cannot imagine reading, in a single 24-hour day, the entire oeuvre of a typical ANN, let alone writing not one but two summaries – one short, the other of some depth – knitting together quotes from each article. Bernstein says she wrote “with lightning speed.” That must be the understatement of the week. Trust me, I was in my youth a dictationist for the Associated Press. “Give me dictation,” they’d cry at AP-WX when a reporter called in from the field. But I couldn’t’ve transcribed their stories as fast as Richards summarized the contents of her dispatches. No, Kristen Richards thought with lightning speed.
I think she summarized my weekly Providence Journal columns and, after 2014, my Architecture Here and There blog posts with a wry humor designed (or so it seemed to me) to cause the bulk of ANN subscribers to roll their eyes. Naturally, most ANN content reflected the thinking of the vast architectural establishment, touting the latest works of the global elite of celebrated modernists from Adjaye to Zaha. I can’t stand them and so I’m sure Richards must have felt pressure – not excluding pressure from her own internal editor – to “cancel” my occasional appearances in her dispatches. And she never hesitated to let me know when she thought something I’d written went over the top. Often she even warned me in advance of articles she thought might, um, tickle my fancy.
My wife Victoria and I met Kristen in 2014 on a visit to the Big Apple. She and I had drinks on the sunny roof garden of a Midtown pub. By then, she had been publishing my newspaper columns and then my blog posts for years, and we’d maintained a frequent email back-and-forth during which she often rebuffed, with a gentle digital smirk, my efforts to get her to run my latest defenestration of some modernist ne’er-do-well.
But sometimes she ran them, and often without prompting from me. For this reason, I think I have insight into Richards’s character as an editor that most other writers she favored cannot possibly have. She was open-minded, yes, and diligent, but she was also courageous. No doubt many of my pieces ended up on her cutting-room floor. Still, while it might indeed be self-serving to say so, it must’ve taken considerable bravery to run some of my pieces.
Few editors today would bother to take the risk, and many no doubt would relish the ability to deny me a forum to spout my classical disdain for the modernist pish-posh. But Kristen Richards was a hero and a paragon in my eyes. Her shoes are probably too big to fill – but I truly hope someone out there will try to keep Kristen’s legacy alive and the indispensable ArchNewsNow going. May she rest – at long last – in peace.