July 7, 2021
by AIA New York
Kristen Richards, Hon. AIA, Hon. ASLA (1952-2021), at the AIA New York Board Inaugural in 2016. Photo: Courtesy of Center for Architecture.
Kristen Richards, Hon. AIA, Hon. ASLA (1952-2021), at the AIA New York Board Inaugural in 2016. Photo: Courtesy of Center for Architecture.

It is with the heaviest of hearts that we bid farewell to Kristen Richards, Hon. AIA, Hon. ASLA, creator of ArchNewsNow, former editor-in-chief of Oculus magazine, and a beloved friend to many in our community.

Kristen was long involved with the architecture and design profession, from her time as a writer and editor at Interiors magazine to the years of diligent of work she put into ArchNewsNow, a daily architecture news compilation website she founded with her husband, software engineer George Yates. At the Chapter, we are forever indebted to her for the 13 years she dedicated to our quarterly publication, Oculus. Kristen led our magazine, along with the Oculus Committee, from 2003 to 2016, during which time she brought her unique flair, incisive intelligence, and passionate dedication to every issue she produced.

Clad in her signature red, Kristen was a mainstay at industry events, and regularly graced the halls of the Center for Architecture with her magnetic personality. While her professional achievements were many, we will remember her most for her love of architecture and her love of our community—for the lifelong memories, connections, and laughs that she helped us create.

In honor of the impact that she had on our community, we have gathered the following words of remembrance from her many friends and colleagues. To submit your own tribute to Kristen, please email membervoices@aiany.org.

See additional tributes to Kristen on Architectural Record, The Architect’s Newspaper, and Architect magazine. AIANY also plans to hold a memorial event in Kristen’s honor later this fall. Stay tuned for more details.

 

Kristen Richards retiring from Oculus in 2016. Photo: Courtesy of Center for Architecture.

Kristen Richards retiring from Oculus in 2016. Photo: Courtesy of Center for Architecture.

 

The architecture world has lost a legend: our dear Kristen Richards. Most of us knew Kristen via our inboxes, as we devoured her invaluable ArchNewsNow daily newsletter, informing us of all the architecture news we needed to know from near to far—with the most helpful one-line summaries. I first met Kristen when I was working at Columbia GSAPP organizing lectures and conferences. I contacted ArchNewsNow to promote an event, thinking it was part of some design media empire, and got a quick and cheerful response from Kristen! Always willing to help, we developed a long-term email exchange until finally I met her in person at an event at the Center for Architecture. Meeting the woman behind the daily emails was like meeting a celebrity! Her wonderful wit, extensive knowledge of the design world, infectious laugh and characteristic style, always accented with red, made her larger than life! Later, when I worked at Harvard GSD, I helped organize a trip to Cambridge for her to participate in an event for design media. Always modest, despite her fame to all of us, she called me to ask me if I would meet her at the gates of the university. She had never been to Harvard and could not believe she was invited—I could not believe she had not been invited before! As she took my arm we strolled through campus and later that day met for a requisite glass of red wine.

When I became Executive Director of AIANY | Center for Architecture, Kristen was one of the first people to congratulate me. In my first year, seeing her at events and as editor of Oculus, which she had guided for so many years, was so helpful and reassuring.

Kristen was a great editor and a fantastic communicator. A huge fan of the Center for Architecture, she contributed much of her time and energy to producing content for us and our community. And she cared about us…She contacted me equally as often to tell me there was a missing comma in an AIANY publication, or that she absolutely loved an event or exhibition at the Center.

One thing she was not happy about was the banishment of red wine at the Center – but shortly before the pandemic shut us down, with Kristen in mind, we relaxed our red wine ban (the terrazzo will survive!) and started serving it again at events and receptions. I let Kristen know and she was elated… but I’m not sure if she ever made it to the Center to enjoy a glass before we closed in 2020. So, when we are back this fall, take a moment to toast Kristen over a glass of red wine, and if some spills, it will only add to the character of the Center, as she did for so many years.”

– Benjamin Prosky, Assoc. AIA, Executive Director, AIANY | Center for Architecture

 

Kristen Richards with friends at the Heritage Ball in 2019. Photo: Samuel Lahoz.

Kristen Richards with friends at the Heritage Ball in 2019. Photo: Samuel Lahoz.

 

I had the great privilege of working with Kristen on each and every issue of Oculus from May of 2003 until the Spring of 2015, and in rereading today her Letters from the Editor the word that stood out was “fun.” Kristen enjoyed what she did—bringing attention to architects and designers and their projects—and she did it so well. To Oculus she brought verve and color, as she did to everything she touched or thought about, from ArchNewsNow to her 2019 editing of the website of Columbia’s Center for Buildings, Infrastructure and Public Space. Over the years we worked together, we shared conversations, conventions, and correspondence.

Two years ago, Kristen sent an email about loss: “I see a shooting star every now and again—but they’re up against the spillover light from the Big City. I do miss my trips to Sedona to visit my Mom. Dark sky heaven and falling stars galore above the silhouettes of Red Rocks… Miss the turquoise skies, the star-studded night skies—and her most of all, sigh. Time to step away from the keyboard, pour a snifter of sambuca (snifter a gift from the Center many years ago), sit in my secret Eden, and watch the evening settle in. Crickets and katydids getting louder by the minute… Life is good.”

Kristen, I miss you. Most of all, your meteoric smile, your rocking red style.

– Rick Bell, FAIA, former Executive Director, AIANY | Center for Architecture

 

Kristen Richards in Woodstock, NY. Photo: Courtesy of Lance Jay Brown.

Kristen Richards in Woodstock, NY. Photo: Courtesy of Lance Jay Brown.

 

How fortunate we were to have Kristen in our midst. I can see her face, more so than any other face, even in her absence. I thought that our relationship during my AIA New York presidency would be the height of our dealings. Little did I know that our friendship would grow stronger during the following years. The last time we met was when she visited for lunch in Woodstock with Luanne Konopko, Irma Ostroff, and me. It was during COVID time. We stayed outside, socially distanced, we walked in the woods to visit my bridge project, and we had lunch with wine (of course), and exciting conversation. Eventually, as the afternoon waned, we watched Kristen drive home to George in her red Beemer sports car that she enjoyed so much. She beamed in her Beemer. Little did we know then that this marvel of a woman, this totally generous soul, this bundle of intelligent energy would not return. Kristen leaves a big hole, which may, over time, diminish but never fully close.

– Lance Jay Brown, FAIA, DPACSA, former President, AIA New York

 

Kristen Richards celebrating the 10th anniversary of ArchNewsNow in 2012. Photo: Courtesy of Jessica Sheridan.

Kristen Richards celebrating the 10th anniversary of ArchNewsNow in 2012. Photo: Courtesy of Jessica Sheridan.

 

In looking through old emails from Kristen, they are sprinkled with excitement about new buildings for us to visit, words of encouragement about my new projects, and a multitude of exclamation points to emphasize her enthusiasm!! Her love of architecture (and her cats, and her husband George) was limitless.

I worked closely with Kristen when I was the editor of e-Oculus, the online counterpart to her Oculus magazine. For six years she took me under her wing, copy edited every single bi-weekly issue, and made sure I had the support (emotional and professional) I needed to be successful. So much of what she did was behind the scenes, unacknowledged, and genuinely out of love for the built environment. It was her mission to bring a voice to design and architecture—making it palatable and accessible to all.

It also meant the world to her to be part of the design community, as was exhibited when she tearily accepted honorary memberships to the AIA and ASLA. She was a mainstay at events across the city. I always knew where I could find her at any party, and I knew I would always meet interesting people whenever I spent time with her. Upbeat, unpretentious, and affectionate.

May we all see the world through her rose-colored glasses!

– Jessica Sheridan, AIA, LEED AP, Principal, Mancini Duffy and Former Editor-in-Chief, e-Oculus

 

At first I thought the secret to Kristen’s joie de vivre might be her rose-colored glasses—real ones, which she paired with her signature red ensembles. But as I got to know her better, I realized that Kristen’s irrepressible joy came from gathering and sharing news, and connecting people in the process. 

I wasn’t Kristen’s immediate successor as the editor of Oculus, but the publication I stepped into still carried her stamp. In its format, content, and contributors, many of her innovations remain to this day. What I value most is the wonderful network that Kristen assembled, including pros like our copy editor, Elena Serocki. “Elena will be your secret weapon,” Kristen told me when I started, and how right she was. Kristen lobbied from afar for assignments to crackerjack journalists, like Claire Wilson, whom she knew would knock it out of the ballpark every time (right again). 

When Kristen had to part with her beloved Midtown studio and officially make her home base outside the city, she would often forward Linda Miller (AIANY Newsletter) and me invitations to press events that she couldn’t attend herself. “This should be good!” or “If I could be in town, I would so be there!” she would write at the top of the email, perhaps hoping to have some eyes and ears on the ground, but primarily aiming to ensure that news—or even just some good gossip—did not go unheeded. 

Kristen generously shared ideas and information with me when she could have dropped the mic, riding into a blazing red sunset. But she loved Oculus, the Center, and architects too much to do that. Though she and I had different approaches, I’ve never forgotten that I stand on her shoulders. Kristen was always the reader I wanted to impress the most. To imagine her opening the latest Oculus was the incentive to do one more proofread before shipping the issue to the printer every quarter.

I dropped Kristen a note in late January, just to say hello and let her know that her newsletter ArchNewsNow (ANN) had been a lifeline during the dark days of homeschooling during the pandemic, when my reading time was sucked up by second-grade math. “Sometimes I don’t see the forest for the trees and wonder if anyone is paying attention (do I really have to set my alarm?). But I do…and glad to know it’s keeping folks connected,” she replied.

Kristen connected us in so many ways. Scanning ANN’s digest of must-reads was invaluable in and of itself, but it was also thrilling to know that thousands of colleagues were looking at the same “cheers” and “eyefuls” from Kristen, her daily reminder of why we fell in love with architecture.

– Molly Heintz, Editor-in-Chief, Oculus

 

I will never forget how overjoyed Kristen was when she was appointed editor-in-chief of the revamped Oculus magazine. At the time, I was the director of marketing and communications at the Municipal Art Society, but it was time to make a change. Kristen encouraged me to make the transition and become a freelance writer and publicist. And to give me a head start, she even gave me my first writing assignment. And so, on my way home from my last day working at the MAS, I stopped by Grand Central Terminal to cover the exhibition of ideas for the High Line for e-Oculus, which Kristen also helmed. That began my long association with the Center and the Chapter, one that I am proud of. I have been writing for the “In the News” section of the Newsletter (some people still call it e-Oculus!) and the Design Awards issue of Oculus ever since. Kristen had more faith in me than I had in myself. We were very close, and she was always there for me, personally and professionally. Kristen had a great way with words as a writer and an editor, but she was also my best listener. Many of you have experienced her far-reaching intelligence, quick wit, sense of fairness, love for her friends, compassion for people, and of course, her joie de vivre, which was infectious. What I am most grateful to Kristen for, besides the opportunities she gave me and her unequivocal friendship, is that by example, she showed me how to be a better person.

– Linda Miller, Writer and Contributor, Oculus

 

Kristen Richards photographing the Miami skyline in 2010. Photo: Courtesy of James Russell.

Kristen Richards photographing the Miami skyline in 2010. Photo: Courtesy of James Russell.

 

As a member and then editorial advisor to Oculus, I had the privilege of working with Kristen Richards over many years when she was its editor. She was always a pleasure, yet brought rare and persistent dedication to a task and a great heart. She’ll be so missed! Our committee would often bring too many unformed ideas to the table and discuss them rather too endlessly at times. She was patient and always wanted to accommodate everyone, even when that task was clearly impossible. Out of this occasionally exasperating process she produced issues that powerfully engaged architecture and connected it to the essential urban issues facing New York.

Under her watchful eye, ArchNewsNow became an essential resource—a connection to voices all over the world who advocated and argued for—and with—architecture. Even if the oft-cited “technology gods” sabotaged a newsletter here or there, she always cited the support she got from her husband George Yates.

Like so many others, I marveled at her endless curiosity and enthusiasm. She kept her wide-eyed Arizona earth girl persona intact. She had an excellent ability to celebrate. Her dedication and the joy she took in architecture and the people who made it happen were so infectious.

I thought I would send along this photo, which for me has always captured something ineffable that seemed so essentially Kristen. She HAD to take that photo of the Miami skyline (2010) and something in her stance and the way it radiates her good will and endless capacity to be delighted has always stuck with me.

– James Russell, FAIA, Independent Journalist; former Member, Oculus Committee

 

The shock of last night’s sad news is unlikely ever to fade. Kristen was an insightful editor and writer, an energetic mentor, a generous friend, and more: she was nothing less than the beating heart of New York’s architectural-journalistic community. No professional gathering in our city was complete without Kristen’s smile, her wisecracks, and her boundless enthusiasm for built and natural environments and the people involved with them. She knew nearly everybody and kept on top of everything; she took deep delight in learning more and getting to know more people. She understood instinctively, long before Landscape Urbanism became a meme and a symposium topic, how buildings serve us best when thoughtfully balanced with the green world. And with ArchNewsNow, a simple invention that quickly became indispensable, she gave the whole professional world an instrument for keeping abreast of the news that mattered.

She had an unmatched flair for connecting with people and connecting them with each other. Can anyone estimate how many solid friendships in this community began in a catalytic conversation with Kristen after a panel or at a major firm’s holiday party, in her spontaneous hunch that “there’s somebody you’ve just got to meet”? In her own personal sphere, anchored by her steady, quiet, gifted, and likable partner George, she was a model of how to balance a vibrant working life and a peaceful, joyful, verdant, catful home.

One of many things I owe to Kristen is a large part of my own career writing about architecture. Through good fortune and the professional grapevine, I heard some years ago that she was looking for new contributors to Oculus, and I met her for coffee near the Center; this enjoyable conversation quickly led to the recognition that there would be no border between editor/writer collegiality and personal friendship. My own experience in this regard is just one of many such connections I’m aware of. She was one of the rare people who could become a true and lasting friend the first time you met her. No less than the architects she loved to write about and encouraged others to write about, she increased our world’s reserves of integrity, utility, and delight.

– Bill Millard, Writer and Contributor, Oculus

 

Kristen Richards was one of the brightest stars in a firmament that included the most outstanding architects, landscape architects, designers, artists, and writers in the world. She honored their work when she mentioned it in ArchNewsNow or commissioned an article on it for Oculus. She was modest in the face of the giants of the industry, and I don’t think she ever realized how important her acknowledgment was to them. 

Her recognition of my work was an important stamp of approval. I didn’t know Kristen or her publications before she called me that day in the fall of 2008, but I was beyond flattered when she said she’d been reading my stuff and wondered if I’d be interested in writing for Oculus. I listened to her for only a few moments, and I was on board. Out of those few minutes also came a collaboration and a solid friendship that lasted to the end of her days. 

I loved talking to her, which we did for hours on so many subjects: design, foreign languages, her numerous careers, her colorful and talented mother in Sedona, our respective times abroad, gardening, native species, cats, and her husband, George, whom she doted on. 

Working for her on Oculus was a complete joy.  She knew what interested me and gave me those assignments. She could be a ruthless copy editor, but good-naturedly tolerated my writer’s prima donna gene and moved on. We had deadlines, after all.  

Besides her wit and tirelessly cheerful demeanor, I think it is her rigor that I will miss the most. She was old school in a way that writers find reassuring, because it gives us strict parameters to work within and then go on to add just the right flourishes. From now on, every time I write something, I will be channeling that red pen of hers as I look for just the right word, and wonder if she would’ve liked what I’ve written.

– Claire Wilson, Oculus Contributor

 

I first met Kristen Richards twenty-some years ago. As she began her time with AIANY as editor-in-chief of Oculus, I was also getting involved with the chapter—which allowed our paths to cross often. My good fortune! Back then and always she was vibrant, warm, caring, and inclusive. And Kristen was always effusive. Sometimes about something great she’d read, or a project tour she’d been on, or the event underway, or someone with whom she’d recently been corresponding…. Her excitement was contagious. She was a champion for our industry, and not just the projects but also the people. She knew everyone—architects and editors, writers and planners, publicists and academics, and more. And she brought us all together, literally through ArchNewsNow and Oculus—but also in person, making introductions, sharing news, and building excitement.

I learned so much from Kristen. For four years I had the privilege of chairing the Oculus Committee for the Chapter while she was the editor. We spoke or emailed each day during that time, and my respect for her grew and grew—and our friendship blossomed. She put her all into everything she did. She was honest, open, present, and kind.

Kristen made the world better and brighter.

– Kirsten Sibilia, Assoc. AIA, Managing Principal, Dattner Architects; former Chair, Oculus Committee

 

Kristen Richards was unique and brilliant. When I joined and later chaired the Oculus Committee, she took me under her wing and taught me a great deal about writing and editing. Whenever we were stuck in trying to find a good theme for an issue or an idea for an article, Kristen would toss ideas out until something stuck.  She was so much fun to work with.
I will miss her red outfits, her greetings at every event, her hugs and her tireless work on behalf of design and the architectural profession.

– Guy Geier, FAIA, FIIDA, LEED, Managing Partner, FXCollaborative; 2018 President, AIA New York; former Chair, Oculus Committee

 

I used to think that Kristen really liked me and was happy to see me when we got together or met at industry events, and then at some point I realized that she really liked virtually everyone she knew or worked with in the New York and ultimately the global architectural community. Her passing is a loss to us all for many reasons. She was so ahead of everyone when she started ANN, using George’s brilliant software to aggregate design and architecture articles from all over the world. “In English, that’s my requirement,” she once told me. We read and valued ArchNewsNow and we have been in awe of her prodigious output and work ethic.  But her pure love of the people she knew, corresponded with, and met along the way is what we will remember. Pretty much everyone.  RIP, Kristen.

– Iva Kravitz, Founder, The Iva Agency; former Member, Oculus Committee

 

It’s hard to imagine Kristen at a loss for words, but that’s how I, and many of us, feel at the news of her death. Kristen was a force for all that’s good in our universe, the universe of architecture, design, and urbanism. Many of the tributes have mentioned her generosity with her talents, her time, her connections, and especially with the open-source nature of the ArchNewsNow platform. Her generosity of spirit transcends those and then some. She wore her knowledge easily and shared it even more easily. Kristen was a keystone of our industry, and we gravitated to her because of that.

Her legendary adventurousness and sense of fun seemed inextinguishable. In our still-virtual world, it’s hard to imagine her absence, but I know we’ll feel it in the fall when we can gather again at our myriad professional events. We’ll miss our lady in red at every event, but she’ll be right there with us, taking it all in and glorying in it.

– Gretchen Bank, Assoc. AIA, Co-chair, AIANY Design for Risk & Reconstruction Committee (DfRR)

 

What terrible news! She was such an integral part of the NYC architecture scene; go to any industry event and chances are you would run into her, dressed in her signature red. She was always upbeat, always fun to talk to, and always full of stories and jokes, and her own particular brand of dish. She had a lot of moxie and a lot of pure Broadway pizazz, and it is no surprise to learn that she started out in theater, and even had a stint as the Greek Breck Girl! She left a firm imprint on the world of architecture journalism, but my fondest memories of her are more personal—of someone who always greeted me with a smile and warm hug, and who I was always glad to see. So sad to learn this news, we will all miss her.

– Joan Blumenfeld, FAIA, FIIDA, LEED ID+C, Principal, Perkins+Will

 

She was a superb editor, yes, but above all else, Kristen was a dear friend of mine and my wife Peggy’s for many years. But however many, they were too, too few.

We always thought she’d be like us, immortal, with a keen ear for design news, a nose for its bullshit, an eye for style, and perhaps most of all, a soul that considered architecture a social art serving people and somehow crafting a better world for all. She cared.

And then there was Kristen the flaneur, ever ready to meet wherever to take in another exhibit, or panel, or better yet, a tour of a project, and then, of course, a toast or two, or three after, and then a long leisurely dinner, filled with laughter, about the vanity of architects, the challenge of gardens, the diffidence of her pet cats, and the tolerance, and abiding love, of George (whose IT was essential to Archnewsnow.com, as was her institutional memory).

The website I know was a grind for which she rose before dawn every weekday, scoured the internet, read the submissions, lent it all a discerning filtering, and, in her summaries, a touch of poetry and wit. It was for her an obvious love, and for so many of us required reading in the morning, along with a good cup of coffee.

What a loss, personally, and for the design profession. She will be missed, and I fear truly irreplaceable.

Let her memory be toasted with a good pure vodka she loved.

– Sam Hall Kaplan, Writer and Editor

 

Kristen was a voice, a personality, a great friend. Unfazed by fashion, she was an astute critic who admired good classical architecture as much as good modernism. She was a fantastic story-teller, especially of the stories of her own robust life. Oh what a loss!

– Mary Campbell Gallagher, President, International Coalition for the Preservation of Paris

 

Kristen was a brilliant editor and journalist. Her interests were far and wide about architecture and design. Her contributions as editor of Oculus were exemplary and ArchNewsNow remains one of the best active daily archives of current architectural journalism. In her tireless work to provide access to the profession to those who could not afford subscriptions, her humanity was boundless. Her loss is tragic and will not be filled easily.

– George Ranalli, Founder, George Ranalli Architect

 

Kristen was the go-to voice to fact-check anything to do with architecture. And a hoot to hang out with!

– Terry Poltrack, Former Communication Director, ASLA

 

Kristen Richards was the best. Period.

– Mike Welton, Writer and Editor

 

The news of Kristen Richards passing has been a tremendous blow to everyone at the Center for Architecture. As a longstanding member of the Education Department, Kristen often championed the work of built environment educators from all parts of the world. She was a friend to everyone she met, and we, like so many, received her personal attention on countless occasions when she sent a message with an article about teaching young audiences through the lens of architecture.

It was always a thrill to see her at the Center because she was perhaps the most enthusiastic person in the crowd; every event was a celebration with Kristen in attendance. One could have had the most troubling day and yet, when you bumped into Kristen at an opening or lecture later that evening, she not only listened deeply but had the knack of putting a smile on your face ASAP. ArchNewsNow was the other way that Kristen was with us virtually every day of the week. There is so much that we will miss, which makes having to say goodbye to such a dear friend so difficult. Her tremendous impact was daily, yet she will always be with us through her exceptional example of compassion and her love of a field that she so openly shared and elevated for all.

– Tim Hayduk, Lead Educator, Center for Architecture

 

It’s hard to even imagine a big, boisterous AIA New York event without Kristen there. I first met Kristen when I was new to the city at 23 years old, and she always made me feel like a VIP at every exhibition opening, lecture, or party where we crossed paths. She had a special talent for celebrating others, whether she was shining a light on their work, or just thrilled to be with whomever she was speaking to in that moment. Kristen’s genuineness, kindness, and irrepressible sense of fun made sharing time and space with her something to look forward to. Her presence always added so much, and her absence will be powerfully felt.

– Jesse Lazar, Deputy Director, AIA New York | Center for Architecture

 

We filmed Cocktails and Conversations because we imagined that somehow our lively Friday night conversations about design issues would inspire a channel like Ovation TV to pick it up, everything would go viral and architects would become rock stars. Well, that didn’t happen. Plan B was to consolidate them into a book. I’ve always prided myself on my skills as a writer and like to tell everyone who will listen that everything I’ve ever written has been published. Which is true. It is also true that I haven’t exactly written that much. On my own, it might have taken me the better part of a decade to carefully craft the content and get it ready for publication.  Since I had enjoyed all the delicious cocktails, my memory was probably not quite as sharp as I would have wanted for such an exercise.  Thankfully William and I had the videos. And we had Kristen. She really pulled it all together. She had been to most of the programs. We watched the videos, read the transcripts and talked about what the architects said. Almost every morning after she had finished putting out ArchNewsNow, we would connect. Under her guidance we began to peel away the layers and build a structure that would tell a story in a way that was accurate and engaging and looked good. We wrote and rewrote until we couldn’t remember what draft we were on.

Authors often complain about their editors pushing them into a direction they didn’t want to go. But with Kristen, it was the opposite. It showed me how special the experience could be. It was a journey that we took together exploring what design is all about and how do you convey it. I’ve known Kristen forever, but I think it was the first time I realized how truly extraordinary she was. The book wouldn’t exist without her.

– Abby Suckle, FAIA, Co-chair, AIANY Architecture Dialogue Committee

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