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Q&A: Pointers from the judges

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AJ Writing Prize judges Joseph Rykwert, Edwin Heathcote and Christine Murray provide some pointers for entrants

What makes for good architectural writing?

Joseph Rykwert: Good architectural writing comes from sensing that putting words together is like putting stuff together to make a building, so your piece becomes an analogue of a building.

Edwin Heathcote: It’s just good writing, whether it’s a novel, an article, an essay or a review, the text needs to explain or illuminate. There is a lot of writing about architecture and much of it is unreadable. Littered with academic cliché and peppered with fashionable references, it is meant to be approved by a small clique. I can’t understand why architectural writing can’t be original, stimulating, challenging and surprising. And, perhaps even readable.

Christine Murray: Sensitivity, clarity and a strong sense of voice. You have to care about buildings: how they make people feel, how they work.

What made you start writing?

JR: I started writing out of irritation with what seemed to me wrong-headed views.

EH: The slow death of my career as an architect

What is your favourite piece of architectural writing?

JR: WR Lethaby, Architecture, Mysticism and Myth - the first book to take in the relevance of anthropology to building.

EH: Too many to mention but I like Walter Benjamin, WG Sebald and Lewis Mumford.

CM: The AJ publishes many pieces by Jay Merrick - he’s a good writer to watch for his opinion, knowledge and take on the world.

What effect, if any, should good writing have on architecture?

JR: Writing and publishing is like putting a letter in the post box: you hope it will arrive, be read, and will have some effect - but you never can tell.

EH: It should challenge it.

CM: It should help people appreciate their built environment - which hopefully translates into better buildings.

How can aspiring architects and writers improve their writing?

JR: The only way to improve is to read as much good prose as you can get hold of, and watch how it’s made.

EH: Read beyond architecture.

CM: Read the AJ! Don’t be afraid to have an opinion, but make sure it is backed up by solid argument.

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