Architecture writer Witold Rybczynski checks in from Philadelphia. We talk about how his present circumstances — retired from teaching, helping his wife recover from a broken arm, and editing his next book — have enabled him to transition into shelter-in-place mode pretty smoothly. We also get into that upcoming book, The Story of Architecture, how working on it enables him to transport himself into the Renaissance and elsewhere/when, how it’s modeled after Gombrich’s The Story of Art, why he doesn’t want to theorize about the impact of the pandemic on architecture, the Mantel & Greene books he’s immersed in and the French TV series he’s bingeing on via Netflix, and his acceptance that there are wonderful historic buildings he’ll never visit. Give it a listen! And go read his latest book, Charleston Fancy!
You can listen to all these COVID Check-In episodes at The COVID-19 Sessions.
About our Guest
Witold Rybczynski was born in Edinburgh, of Polish parentage, raised in London, and attended Jesuit schools in England and Canada. He studied architecture at McGill University in Montreal, where he also taught for twenty years. He is Emeritus Professor of Urbanism at the University of Pennsylvania. Rybczynski has designed and built houses as a registered architect, as well as doing practical experiments in low-cost housing, which took him to Mexico, Nigeria, India, the Philippines, and China. He has written for the Atlantic, New Yorker, New York Review of Books, and The New York Times, and has been architecture critic for Saturday Night, Wigwag, and Slate. From 2004 to 2012 he served on the U. S. Commission of Fine Arts.
He lives with his wife Shirley Hallam in a loft in an old industrial building near the Schuylkill River in downtown Philadelphia. He doesn’t think of himself as someone with hobbies ? he used to garden under pressure. He doesn’t collect anything, but he has a lot of books, albeit fewer since downsizing. His new book is Charleston Fancy: Little Houses and Big Dreams in the Holy City, from Yale University Press.
Credits: The conversation was recorded remotely via Zencastr. I used a Heil PR-40 Dynamic Studio Recording Microphone feeding into a Cloudlifter CL-1 and a Mackie Onyx Blackjack 2×2 USB Recording Interface. All processing and editing done in Adobe Audition CC. Photo of Witold by someone else. It’s on my instagram.