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Rykwert's medal suggests there is still an economy for ideas on architecture

Our heartfelt congratulations go out to Joseph Rykwert, a deserving Gold Medal recipient, says Christine Murray

I first met Joseph Rykwert soon after joining the AJ. As reviews editor, I was charged with wooing great critics. When my predecessor Andrew Mead left, he gave me the remarkable gift of his Rolodex, which I now call ‘the magic box’. Inside were the contact details of Martin Pawley (then living), William JR Curtis, Kenneth Frampton, Richard Sennett and, of course, Rykwert.

We had lunch at a Chinese restaurant near his home in Hampstead – his choice. Rykwert’s conversation, always rich with references, anecdotes, quotations and ideas, was an overwhelming initiation for me, green in the world of architecture. But I was also struck by his humility, kindness and openness. Ever happy to teach, having taught so many, his generosity and obvious delight in the sharing of ideas, also found in his wife Anne, has made me grateful for their company.

Rykwert did come back to the AJ, and has written frequently since then on buildings such as David Chipperfield’s Hepworth gallery, Eric Parry’s Holburne Museum and, in this week’s issue, Niall McLaughlin’s Bishop Edward King Chapel. He even wrote a column for the AJ for a while. A very active 86-year-old, he is also a founding judge of the AJ Writing Prize, helping us to find, and support, the architectural critics of the future.

Writing to support the pursuit of excellence in architecture is noble

Generosity is an essential quality of critics. To risk friendships to speak your truth, when it would be far easier to feed architects’ egos with platitudes, is more than courageous – it is selfless. Writing to support the pursuit of excellence in architecture is noble. Telling the truth is harder than telling a lie, and a service more useful. But criticism can hurt, even when written without malice. Rykwert once told me he had lost many friends over words written, which is why, when he said he was surprised to receive the Gold Medal, I believe him. Not least because the honour is usually reserved, (with a few exceptions, such as Nikolaus Pevsner and the City of Barcelona) to recognise the built work of architects, such as last year’s recipient, Peter Zumthor.

Perhaps Rywert’s friends weren’t really lost, simply a tad humbled and temporarily wounded. I hope the awarding of the Gold Medal by his peers and juniors shows Rykwert how much the profession appreciates the sharing of his ideas of a town and on architecture, warts and all.

The awarding of Rykwert gives us hope that there is still an economy for ideas on architecture

At the AJ, the awarding of Rykwert gives us hope that there is still an economy for ideas on architecture, not thwarted in the dumbing down of criticism on blogs and Twitter, but one that, with the support of our subscribers, might thrive again. To be recognised as a critic, for words not only printed, but read and valued, is as tender to us as the building of a home that is lived in and loved.

Joseph Rykwert

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