This is so neat, I’m having a blast!” Kristen Richards said to me five years ago, on a muggy summer night, as we sat together in the mezzanine at Richmond County Bank Ballpark in Staten Island, right behind home plate. A meandering baseball game was carrying on below us, and off in the distance, a panoramic view of the upper bay that could summon Sinatra in the mind of even the most hardened New Yorker.
Kristen had accepted my invitation to a hard hat tour for a development in the St. George section of Staten Island. The deal included free tickets to the ballgame (courtesy of my client) and the usual implicit strings attached for any press in attendance. During the game I made the obligatory rounds, schmoozing folks, doing my best to ensure whatever they posted the next day relayed all of the good (or at least most of it). But I never let more than a few outs tick by before returning to the mezzanine section.
We talked shop for a bit, sharing our respective short-lists of favorite architects, our opinions on the burgeoning Hudson Yards development, but mostly our conversation centered on life and family. We discussed our hobbies, marriages, relationships with New York, and all the highs and lows that come with such things. I was heartened to know we were becoming fast friends. What an infectious laugh she had! “I’m having a blast,” she said, and I believed her. I think the home team won that night, but who was keeping score?
Thankfully, our time together didn’t end with the game. With plenty of daylight left, we made our way to the 9-11 Memorial on the St. George Esplanade, an elegant and poignant work of design that, to my surprise, we were both experiencing for the first time. We rode the Staten Island Ferry back to Manhattan, catching the late-July sunset as we crossed the harbor, rendering Lady Liberty to silhouette and making Jersey City appear almost palatable. Taken together, the evening was that quintessential New York moment. What a distinct pleasure it was to share it all with Kristen, someone who by all accounts knew everyone and had seen it all, yet on this day, embodied the joy of pure discovery.
Like countless others I relied consistently—often religiously—on Kristen’s ArchNewsNow newsletters throughout the years. And not just to be reminded (daily!) of how ahead of the curve she was, or be awed by her voracious reading habits. Her curated tallying of the day’s reportage, news items, op-eds, comings and goings and everything else became a constant barometer for the industry, measured by quality and relevance, not flash. She invited us to pay attention and think outside our own bubbles. She was as likely to anoint the writing of young upstarts as she was the latest by established critics. She was a human aggregator who returned phone calls.
I lost touch with Kristen since leaving New York in 2019. I also regret that I wasn’t keeping up with her newsletters of late. Like many, I learned of her passing through a tweet. Once the initial shock wore off, I decided to go into the ArchNewsNow archives and see what she had been sharing in those final days. What I found nearly brought me to tears. This past March 2 (my birthday), her newsletter mentioned an essay of mine published the previous day on Common Edge, and what’s more, she gave it top billing. I never got the chance to thank her for that, or to point out to her the happenstance of the day. Life just got in the way and I wasn’t paying attention. But I am grateful, and I like to think she knew that already.
Her life’s work was a gift to all of us. Her generosity was beyond measure. And even if someone does take up her mantle (and I truly hope that happens), Kristen Richards is as irreplaceable as they come. Godspeed, Kristen.
For this tribute I invited several people whose lives and work were impacted by Kristen to share their own thoughts and stories. My sincerest thanks to each and every one of them.
Since April, when Kristen made her last post on ArchNewsNow, the world of architecture (and I do mean the world, as Kristen’s impact was global) has been in a news blackout. Every day, for nearly 20 years, Kristen brought to our in-boxes the news of what was happening in architecture here, there, and everywhere. As a writer, to have your article picked up by Kristen and included in her daily offering was an honor, one I was fortunate enough to have many times. Her very simple idea scour the four corners of the globe for architecture news, budding architects, provocative projects, critical essays, controversies, and offer it free to subscribers—transformed architectural publishing and accelerated its move from hard copy to bytes. It created a community of architecture readers around the world.
In her typical fashion, Kristen never let this considerable achievement go to her head. Her humility about what she created and produced (too rare a trait in the design professions) had the effect of magnifying her contribution. Through it all (including her years as editor of Oculus, contributing to which was always a pleasure under Kristen’s benevolent red pencil) she maintained an openness to the world and a genuine empathy for people, especially young designers making their way. This made her the beautiful person she was, one with whom spending a day wandering through a museum, attending a press outing, or just having a leisurely lunch of martinis and oysters at the Oyster Bar in Grand Central remain precious gems in my memory. In all aspects of her life, her generosity was prodigious. For instance, in conveying to me hundreds of books on architecture and design for the University of Hartford architecture library, she always made me feel like I was doing her a favor, helping to clear boxes from her garage.
Kristen loved architecture and design (and the social whirl about it), but she seemed most happy digging in the garden of the home she shared with her husband, George. An email string between us would typically include reports on current horticultural activities: “…all’s well…spent the weekend playing hooky in the garden (gasp!).” And another: “I’m off to work in the garden—in a shady spot—until it gets too hot and/or the weeds get the best of me.” Kristen loved to plant, to fertilize, to weed, to water, to nurture. She left a beautiful garden. —Michael J. Crosbie
I think of Kristen Richards as the person who brought architecture into the internet age. It is impossible to overstate the importance of ArchNewsNow. First, it opened the world to all of us, which gave people from across the globe instant access to writing about architecture and the built environment from everywhere. It expanded the audience and made critical writing accessible to all, at exactly the moment when this was urgently needed. But ANN did something else, too, which was to give every one of us in the community of architecture writers a way of following each other. I always tried to read what my colleagues wrote, but before ANN it was hit or miss. But then, suddenly, thanks to Kristen’s magical invention, it was easy, and I could read what every other architecture critic wrote. I can’t understate how important that was. Architecture critics have always been something of a ragtag community, not large enough to be formally organized but at the same time small enough to be relatively free of intramural factions; most of us like and respect each other and feel that our commitment to the idea that writing could enlighten the public and, hopefully, build a constituency for better, more humane architecture and planning overrides any differences among us. When ArchNewsNow began, it connected all of us more closely. It solidified the community of critics and made us feel as if we were all in it together.
All in it together with Kristen, that is. She managed to be cheerleader, gentle overlord, and disciplined editor, all at once. She supported anyone and everyone doing legitimate work, and she managed to sustain a nearly perfect balance of enthusiasm and critical judgment. She was a joy to work with; I cannot remember an encounter with her that was not pleasant and upbeat. And she belonged to no faction—she was a friend to everyone who cared about the future of architecture and believed that the more public discourse there was about architecture, preservation and cities, the better they all would be. The health and liveliness of that discourse is her true legacy. —Paul Goldberger
Kristen was an ideal convener and connector—warm, inquisitive, wry, and very detail oriented. She read everything closely. She would even catch typos that my copy editors missed. Through ArchNewsNow, she leveled the playing field of design journalism, giving regional and emerging critics a global platform that only the critic of The New York Times previously enjoyed. Significantly, she didn’t just collect critiques and slam them into a mindless list, like so many newsletters do. She thoughtfully curated the best architectural writing, weaving together threads that transcended specific locales. It was a pleasure and an honor to be her friend and to appear in her newsletter. She had a significant impact on architecture discourse. —Blair Kamin
The daily posts were wonderful in themselves, a curated survey of the architectural terrain with all its twists and turns and symbolic dramas, but Kristen’s value went far beyond that. She was exuberant to be around, and one of those rare people who build and extend communities for the sheer joy of doing so. In today’s splayed-out world, she created connections – and she almost certainly is irreplaceable. —John King
At a time when architecture media is ever more fragmented, Kristen’s ArchNewsNow newsletter was a kind of online water cooler, reminding me of pieces that I had missed and writers who I should be following. In person Kristen made the same kind of connections, appearing at most NYC architecture events—or at least the ones I went to—and providing a perpetual stream of compliments and introductions. Her enthusiasm never seemed to flag and I always saw her as a kind of permanent fixture. Those events, and my inbox, will be the poorer without her. —Alexandra Lange
As a cub design writer from Iowa who only knew the design media probably existed because every once in a while there would be an article about architecture in The New Yorker, the ecosystem that Kristen Richards tended to and fueled with ArchNewsNow was a comprehensive sample of the world that I was integrating into. I still remember all of the early clips I wrote and edited that made their way into its pages, and Kristen’s endless enthusiasm and boundless support. Writing about design is rare and odd work, often performed alone, but Kristen’s commitment to ArchNewsNow brought us all together. —Zach Mortice
Featured image via Architect Magazine.