Unsupported browser

For a better experience please update your browser to its latest version.

Your browser appears to have cookies disabled. For the best experience of this website, please enable cookies in your browser

We'll assume we have your consent to use cookies, for example so you won't need to log in each time you visit our site.
Learn more

Charles Knevitt dies aged 63


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.



Readers' comments (8)

  • Ben Derbyshire

    Charles Knevitt and Nick Wates' Penguin book, Community Architecture defined the spirit of an era when many were trying to re-orientate architectural practice on the basis that an environment designed with the input of its users would be more sustainable. Dismissed by many at the time as an abdication of the architect's responsibility, many of the principles subsequently became mainstream. Charles and Nick were vitally important culture carriers for many of us at that time and helped establish Community Architecture as a legitimate presence in the RIBA.
    Charles was also a great friend to my father and they kept in touch over the years. Sad that they died within weeks of each other, and sadder that Charles was 30 years my father's junior.
    Ben Derbyshire, Managing Partner HTA Design LLP.

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

  • Sorry Charles has gone - will miss his good humour and enthusiasm.

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

  • Very sad to hear, he was far too young to go, he will be so missed.

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

  • The loss of a great mind and a bundle of fun. We will be less wise and more sombre without him.

    Steve McAdam / Fluid

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

  • How sad to lose someone so energetic, and enthusiastic about architecture; especially so unfairly early.

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

  • The day I heard of his death I got a letter from Charles Knevitt with 'Odds and Sods from my 63 years of clearing out Stuff'. It included an AJ article from the 27th June 1973 (p.1535) on the 1973 RIBA Conference. Charles and I were there as 3rd year Manchester students who 'threaded together an entertaining and disturbing mixture of talk, colour slides and recorded songs' that were 'largely admonitory'. Bolshy student to Pillar of the Establishment! In his early writing in the 1970s Charles strongly promoted solar technologies having also worked with the solar genius Dominic Michaelis. Charles was an excellent scholar and a wide ranging thinker with an enormous knowledge of architecture. At heart he was a very serious commentator on buildings and our profession. He was also a very kind and true friend. Sue Roaf

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

  • A wry character who made me smile back in the day. Smiling now at memory of the unstuffy man he was..

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

  • I'm hugely saddened to hear the news of Charles Knevitt's all too early death. I worked closely with him at the RIBA Trust for several years. He was passionate, energetic, creative, fiercely intelligent and totally committed. And, while he wasn't always the easiest person to work with or for, he was also kind and generous and always true to his beliefs.

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

Have your say

You must sign in to make a comment

Please remember that the submission of any material is governed by our Terms and Conditions and by submitting material you confirm your agreement to these Terms and Conditions.

Links may be included in your comments but HTML is not permitted.

Related Jobs

AJ Jobs