“He was an early champion of my work,” wrote Steven Holl about Kevin Lippert, the founder of Princeton Architectural Press, who died Tuesday at 63 after a long battle with cancer. “In a sense, I owe my beginnings as an architect to Kevin.”
Lippert was still a graduate student at Princeton’s School of Architecture and Urban Planning in 1981 when he founded the small publishing company that later moved with him to Manhattan and then to Hudson, New York. Over the years, Princeton Architectural Press, or PAPress, published more than a thousand books, moving beyond architecture to graphic design, fine art, and other topics that piqued Lippert’s interest (and sometimes sold better than architecture). “In a risk-averse industry, Kevin took an expansive approach, pursuing the dissemination of ideas,” said David J. Lewis, dean and professor of architecture at the Parsons School of Design. Lippert, Lewis pointed out, not only published the early work of his firm, Lewis.Tsurumaki.Lewis, but hired it to design the PAPress office on East Seventh Street in the East Village in the 1990s
A distribution deal with Chronicle Books in the 1990s increased the company’s reach, as did the rise of Amazon in the 2000s. In 2011, Lippert sold PAPress to the McEvoy Group, Chronicle’s parent company, while remaining at its helm. In recent years PAPress sometimes seemed to produce more notecards, puzzles, and other novelty items than books. But Lippert loved working with authors, of which he was one: his final book, about Shaker villages, will be published posthumously by Design Arts Press—the company he founded after leaving PAPress in 2019.
“Kevin was a wonderful friend and generous and gracious mentor,” says Mark Lamster, the architecture critic of the Dallas Morning News, who worked for PAPress for about 10 years starting in the 1990s. “Kevin believed that publishing was a collaborative process,” Lamster adds, “which is why he made sure to put the names of his employees in every book.”
A polymath who built furniture and played piano, Lippert’s greatest passion—after his three children—was publishing architecture books, which he did at PAPress for almost 40 years. During that time he was also building a brand. “I want people to think [that] if it's one of our books, it's almost certainly interesting, handsome, well-edited, and well-made,” he told Archinect in 2004. The company published monographs, treatises, and architecture guidebooks (Wright Sites, a guidebook to the work of Frank Lloyd Wright, has been a big seller). It also published the first book on Alabama’s Rural Studio, which Lippert hoped, he said in the 2004 interview, “represents a turning point in people's consideration of the social component of architecture.”
Lippert also took chances on early-career architects, some of whom became leading lights of the profession. He published Holl’s first architectural manifesto, Anchoring, in 1989, in time for an exhibition of Holl’s work at the Museum of Modern Art, and even wrote the introduction to the book. Learning of Lippert’s death, Holl wrote that “Kevin Lippert was more than a publisher. He was a committed intellectual and impresario. His contribution to architecture culture has been enormous.”
Another Lippert “discovery” was Tom Kundig, with whom he published four successive monographs. Kundig told RECORD by phone that Lippert “took a chance on me. He changed my life, and I think he changed a lot of people’s lives. Look at the list of books he published. He created a whole architectural universe.”