Students Staff

18 September 2013

Founder of Art History at Essex to receive 2014 Royal Gold Medal for architecture

Graduates at CloudZync

Joseph Rykwert (Copyright - Pawel Mazurl CC Krakow)

The celebrated architectural critic, historian and writer Joseph Rykwert, who founded Art History at Essex, has been awarded 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 was the founding professor of the Department of Art at Essex, which later became the Department of Art History and Theory. The Department welcomed its first students in 1968 and Professor Rykwert was based at Essex until 1980. During that time he wrote the influential On Adam's House in Paradise and The First Moderns.

He continues to be a world-leading authority on the history of art and architecture; his ground breaking ideas and work have had a major impact on the thinking of architects and designers since the 1960s and still do so to this day.

Professor Jules Lubbock, Emeritus Professor of Art History at Essex, said: "This award, which is architecture's equivalent to the Nobel Prize, is recognition of Professor Rykwert's great influence not only on the history of architecture but especially on practising architects. Through his historical writings and lectures he has helped to broaden their understanding beyond the fashions of the immediate present. For many years he ran an MA for architects including Daniel Libeskind, the master planner of the new World Trade Centre, whose achievements Essex recognised with an Honorary Doctorate in 1999. The importance of that course, which launched what is now known as the Essex School of Architectural Phenomenology, is attested to by the fact that its history is now the subject of current research."

Leading architect and academic Eric Parry, who nominated Professor Rykwert, said: "The First Moderns brought a radical freshness to the well-trodden paths of 17th and 18th Century architectural scholarship. It represented in part the fruit of thirteen very influential years as Professor of Art at the University of Essex. The postgraduate seminar on the history and theory of Architecture that he began there in 1967-68 was the first of its kind anywhere and it is harrowing to reflect that the architectural authorities of the time wanted it suppressed.

"Frances Yates, one of the most distinguished scholars then teaching at the Warburg Institute, 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."

Only eight theorists and writers on architecture, rather than practitioners, have previously been awarded the RIBA Royal Gold Medal and Professor Rykwert joins a very select group which includes Sir Nikolaus Pevsner, Sir John Summerson and Lewis Mumford.

Professor Rykwert's 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. Other significant publication, alongside On Adam's House in Paradise and The First Moderns, include 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.

His 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 his 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: "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 naturalised 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.

In 1984, he was appointed Chevalier dans l’ordre des Arts et des Lettres. He holds honorary degrees from the University of Edinburgh, the University of Cordoba, Argentina, the University of Bath, Toronto and Trieste and Rome, and is a member of the Italian Accademia di San Luca and the Polish Academy. In 2000, he was awarded the Bruno Zevi prize in architectural history by the Biennale of Venice and in 2009 the Gold Medal Bellas Artes, Madrid. He has been president of the international council of architectural critics (CICA) since 1996.

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

...more news releases