Kevin Lippert, editor of architecture books, dies aged 63

When Kevin Lippert was an architecture student at Princeton in 1981, he and his fellow students were encouraged to study historical texts. But these books were old, fragile, oversized, and cumbersome, and access to them was limited.

It occurred to him that students would be happy to pay for them if they could be reprinted in smaller formats and made available at a reasonable price.

And so he gave his idea a whirl. He persuaded the school librarians to let him take out rare books and copy them; If students had their own copies, he argued, they would not damage the originals.

In a pilot project, he first experimented with “Recueil et Parallèle des Edifices de Tout Genre” (“Survey and Comparison of Buildings of All Kinds”), an 1800 book by the French architect Jean-Nicolas-Louis Durand. He made elaborate copies in large 20 x 26 inch sheets and placed them in wooden cases for better preservation. At $300 each, they were nice but not very practical.

To increase its appeal, he decided that his next book should be smaller and bound. He chose a classic text: Edifices de Rome Moderne (1840), Paul Letarouilly’s three-volume masterpiece, sometimes cited as the finest book on Renaissance architecture ever published. He found a printer who compiled the work into a volume measuring a handy 9 x 12 inches and printed 1,000 copies.

Mr. Lippert sold them to students from the trunk of his car for $55 each. They were sold out immediately.

Thus was born Princeton Architectural Press, of which he was the founder and editor. It eventually branched out beyond its classic reprint series, producing quality books on architecture, design, and visual culture—and later books on hobbies and crafts, children’s books, and note cards.

The publishing venture was an early example of the entrepreneurial spirit that inspired the multi-faceted Mr. Lippert, who died March 29 at his home in Ghent, NY, southeast of Albany. He was 63.

His wife, Rachel Rose Lippert, said the cause was complications from a second battle with brain cancer.

Mr. Lippert made his name as a publisher, but he was more than that. He was a classical pianist, first performing at the age of 6 and composing music for the first time at the age of 8. He started at Princeton as a medical student until he became fascinated with the history and philosophy of science and changed majors. He was elected Phi Beta Kappa and earned his master’s degree from the Princeton School of Architecture. A computer genius, he ran a technical services company that sold hardware and software to design firms.

He also cooked, cycled, hiked, built furniture, gardened and fueled up with countless cups of espresso. He was also a historian and wrote a book, War Plan Red (2015), about it secret plans by the United States and Canada to invade each other in the 1920s and 30s.

“He was a real polymath” Mark Lamberwho worked for him at Princeton Architectural Press and is now an architectural critic at The Dallas Morning News, wrote in a tribute after his death.

But while Mr. Lippert was full of interests, his enduring legacy was in the field of architecture. The press – which was founded in Princeton, moved to Manhattan, then to Hudson, NY, and then back to Manhattan – had no formal affiliation with Princeton University, although Mr. Lippert’s credentials at Princeton gave it credibility.

Early on, he met with an Eastman Kodak representative and learned about the chemicals used in specialty photography. He then photographed and developed the plates for his books himself, producing works of high quality.

“I want people to think,” he told Archinect, an online architecture forum, in 2004 that “if it’s one of our books, it’s almost certainly interesting, well edited, and well done.”

His goal was to bring architecture closer to as wide an audience as possible and to bring new voices into the conversation.

“There was a gap between the academic, theory-heavy MIT Press and the coffeetableism of Rizzoli,” Mr. Lamster wrote, adding that Princeton Architectural Press would fill the gap with “the voice of the young practitioner.”

Mr. Lippert campaigned for up-and-coming architects. He published Steven Holls pioneering architectural manifesto “Anchoring” in 1989 and wrote the introduction to the book of the same name. Herr Holl, as a tribute to Herr Lippert on his websitecalled him “a committed intellectual and impresario for the culture of architecture”.

Mr. Lippert also promoted the work of Tom Kündiga prominent Pacific Northwest architect, with whom he published four monographs.

“He changed my life and I think he changed the lives of many people,” Mr. Kundig said Architectural Record. “Look at the list of books he has published. He created an entire architectural universe.”

Kevin Christopher Lippert was born on January 20, 1959 in Leeds, England. At the time, his parents, Ernest and Maureen (Ellis) Lippert, were studying at the University of Leeds.

When his father continued his academic studies in analytical chemistry at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, the family moved to Tennessee. They later moved to Ohio and Kevin grew up mostly in Toledo.

He taught himself to play the piano from his grandmother at age four, won numerous competitions, and continued playing for the rest of his life, including at Princeton, where he served as music director for campus radio station WPRB. He received his bachelor’s degree in 1980 and his master’s degree in 1983.

He later taught at Princeton. As an expert in digital technologies, he was an early proponent of using computer drawing and 3D visualization tools.

2020 he has received an Arts and Letters Award in architecture from the American Academy of Arts and Letters.

In addition to his wife, Mr. Lippert also leaves behind his father; his mother, now Maureen Rudzik; two sons, Christopher and Cooper; a daughter, Kate Lippert; and a sister, Kari Lippert. His three previous marriages ended in divorce.

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