Author Q&A Session with William Richards

Routledge is pleased to share with you our author Q&A session with William Richards author of Revolt and Reform in Architecture's Academy: Urban Renewal, Race, and the Rise of Design in the Public Interest.

William Richards is a writer who has covered architecture, cities, and design culture for Architect Magazine, Architectural Record, Future Anterior, Landscape Architecture, and other magazines and journals. He holds a doctorate in the history of art and architecture from the University of Virginia and lives in Washington, D.C.

About the book and the subject area:


Thank you for publishing your title Revolt and Reform in Architecture's Academy: Urban Renewal, Race, and the Rise of Design in the Public Interest with us.  1) Why is your book relevant to present day planning and urban design? and how do you think the field of planning and urban design is evolving today?

This book uniquely deals with urban renewal, race, and how architects and planners learn to design and build structures and spaces. These things are connected in obvious ways today just as they were connected 70 years ago—the spaces that we make influence our attitudes, boundaries, and outlooks. And, those attitudes influence the kinds of spaces we make, which say a lot about who we are as a society. To put it another way: we accept what we see as our reality when, in fact, every bit of it has been demarcated, designed, constructed, and monetized by developers, municipal authorities, architects, and planners. It stands, then, that architects and planners in particular have a huge responsibility to think ethically and humanely about the spaces and places they design, and this book is about the birth of a design ethic two generations ago at Columbia University and Yale University. It’s the reason we’re talking about “public interest design” today. Columbia and Yale, among hundreds of urban colleges and universities, were conduits for urban renewal’s financing, practices, and legacy, and this book considers how New York City and New Haven were the perfect stages for architecture students in the 1960s and early-1970s to develop a set of critical design skills that are staples of architectural education today.

2. What did you enjoy about writing the book?

I enjoyed interviewing my subjects—all former architecture students who went on to do a variety of things that define a critical and ethical practice of design, whether they still practice architecture or not. The interviews themselves were incredibly interesting to conduct, and invaluably useful to consider in the context of the 1960s and 1970s. One of the challenges of this book was pulling together distinct histories that had not been synthesized: of urban renewal, of higher education after 1945, of architecture curricula, and of the lived experiences of men and women who influenced two generations of architects and planners. The political and economic histories of New York and New Haven between 1950 and 1970 provided a backdrop to these students, but they also provided real motives to rethink architecture’s impact on society. That tension, between observation and action, also drove the book—sometimes into areas that surprised me.

3. Tell us more about your academic background?

My background is in art and architectural history, and I am lucky to have a lot of clever and committed colleagues who balance the evidence of buildings and landscapes with the circumstances that create, sustain, or even destroy the everyday lives of people who inhabit those buildings and landscapes. Revolt and Reform in Architecture’s Academy attempts a similar balance—between the motives of individual actors (within the context of urban renewal and social upheaval) and the means at their disposal: their attitudes about race, about class, about money, and about their vocation. Some historians will argue that the built environment determines how we live, while others will say that our choices drive the way our world looks and works. The truth is that it’s both, and being a historian of architecture means pursuing both to make sense out of our world, past and present.

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William Richards

William Richards

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Revolt and Reform in Architecture's Academy