Charles Knevitt, journalist, author and former director of the RIBA Trust, has died from lung cancer, aged 63
The prolific broadcaster, curator and playwright was the architecture correspondent of both the Sunday Telegraph (1980-84) and The Times (1984-91) and was the author/editor of a dozen books.
Born in Dayton, Ohio, to British parents, he studied at Manchester University (1971-75), where he wrote his thesis on leisure architecture, managing to secure significant sponsorship from companies including Ladbrokes, Rank Leisure Services and the Playboy Club (AJ 09.09.04).
In 1975 Knevitt came up with the phrase ‘community architecture’ and in 1987 penned a book on the subject, Community Architecture: How People Are Creating Their Own Environment, with co-author Nick Wates.
During the mid-’80s he worked as a writer and presenter for Thames TV, Granada TV, Anglia TV and Channel 4, including the six-part series Space on Earth’(1985).
In 2004 Knevitt took over as director of the RIBA Trust, the cultural arm of the institute, which was responsible for the library and drawings collection, events, awards and exhibitions. Speaking to the AJ in September that year, Knevitt said: ‘It’s probably the best job in architecture.’
He was responsible for bringing the first major exhibitionin a generation of Le Corbusier’s work to Liverpool and London; and loaned original work by Palladio in the RIBA Drawings Collection to touring exhibitions in Europe and the USA.
Knevitt left the RIBA in 2011 and went on to write Le Corbusier’s Women, a one-man show first performed at Riverside Studios in Hammersmith, London, and subsequently at the Bowery Poetry Club, New York, in 2013.
Paying tribute to Knevitt, Tony Chapman, the RIBA’s head of awards, said: ‘Charles Knevitt was one of those people who, though never qualified as an architect, contributed massively to architecture through the strength of his personality and the breadth of his knowledge and interests. As architecture critic for the Sunday Telegraph and Times, he was an unreliable confidant of the Prince of Wales, coining the term ‘community architecture’ for the movement that was a necessary corrective to the over-confidence of 1960s architecture. With Nick Wates he wrote the standard text on the subject, authored another nine books on architecture and advised a number of TV series.
‘In 2004 he became the first director of the RIBA’s newly established Trust, which was responsible for all the cultural activities of the RIBA. His chairing of meetings was often cavalier, always amusing: he believed architecture should be enjoyed; but most of all he enjoyed architecture. His personal enthusiasm drove the hugely successful touring exhibitions on Le Corbusier and Palladio. And in his inspirational and hands-off way he drove necessary changes in the awards programme through the RIBA’s committees.
‘He was always supportive of staff and popular among architects. In 2016 he was made an RIBA Honorary Fellow for his contribution to architecture and, although he knew he was dying of cancer, made a spirited acceptance speech and the following day delivered a brilliant masterclass about Corb and Palladio. He is greatly missed by who those worked with him.’
‘He was also a great raconteur and bon viveur’
Amanda Reekie of Stratton & Reekie, where Charles had worked as an ‘unofficial consultant’, added: ‘He had a great love and knowledge of words and architecture, enormous curiosity and forensic attention to detail. He was fearless and uncompromising which made him formidable as a foe, and as an ally.
‘He was also a great raconteur, bon viveur, and loyal, generous friend to many. Truly he was one of the outstanding characters of his generation in architecture and he will be hugely missed.’
Knevitt, who was made an honorary RIBA fellow earlier this year, is survived by his three children Tom, Polly and Jennifer.
Just heard the terribly sad news of Charles Knevitt's death. A scholar, a gent, a scoundrel, a wit and intellectual. Will be greatly missed— Austin Williams (@Future_Cities) March 23, 2016