Kristen Richards, who as the editor of the website ArchNewsNow (ANN) for almost 20 years helped architects, architecture buffs, and her fellow architecture writers keep tabs on what was happening around the world, died yesterday. She was 69. The cause was cancer, according to her husband, George Yates, a software engineer.
At its peak, ANN had some 15,000 subscribers, including writers like this one, who got some of his best story ideas by seeing what was making news in other countries. The free publication became essential reading and meant that writers who had been known only locally were now read globally. When Richards applied for honorary membership in the AIA, in 2010, Blair Kamin, then the architecture critic of the Chicago Tribune, wrote, “It is perhaps an exaggeration to say that Kristen Richards has changed the way that the architectural world communicates, but not much of one.” San Francisco Chronicle critic John King wrote: “She is the water cooler, the town pump, the back fence.”
ANN was almost entirely a pro bono project. A labor of love, it was a sort of digital version of the networking Richards excelled at in real life. Nothing made her happier than when, at a dinner or symposium, she was introduced to someone whose work she knew from reading everything written about architecture, but whose acquaintance she had not previously made.
Richards was raised by her grandparents on a dairy farm in New Paltz, New York, and attended Carnegie Mellon University, where she majored in theater.
Most weekdays since 2002, she woke up early at her house in New York’s Rockland County. Using software created by Yates (whom she considered a partner in the venture), she gathered articles about architecture from several hundred English-language publications in more than 20 countries. She read every article, decided which ones to bring to her readers’ attention, and then organized them into a daily dispatch, complete with summaries written at lightning speed. She also ran hundreds of original articles over the years. Hugh Pearman, former architecture critic of the Sunday Times of London, wrote that Kristen “brought old-school journalistic diligence to the online age.”
Richards wore many other hats. From 2003 to 2016, while producing ANN, she also served as editor-in-chief of Oculus, the quarterly journal of the AIA New York chapter. Before that, she spent ten years as a writer and editor at Interiors magazine.
In the book world, Richards was the editorial consultant for Cocktails and Conversations: Dialogues on Architectural Design, by Abby Suckle and William Singer, and Iconic Buildings: An Illustrated Guide to the World’s Most Remarkable Architecture, by Studio Esinam. She contributed to Designed for the Future: 80 Practical Ideas for a Sustainable World, edited by Jared Green; New York Dozen: Gen X Architects, by Michael J. Crosbie; and Architecture: Celebrating the Past, Designing the Future, for the AIA’s 150th anniversary in 2007.
She once wrote that her two favorite things were hard-hat tours and championing young talent. Gardening was another passion, and in 2008 she was named an honorary member of the American Society of Landscape Architects, in recognition of her treatment of landscape architecture as an important component of ANN.
And in 2011, she did become an honorary member of the AIA. In her application, she explained why she never charged for ArchNewsNow.com: “Architecture students in Pakistan and Afghanistan subscribe; it will be their job to make their countries whole. I will not restrict their access.”