Joseph Rykwert fonds

Joseph Rykwert fonds

Part of


  • Joseph Rykwert (archive creator)


Joseph Rykwert fonds

Dates of creation



  • archives

Level of archival description


Extent and Medium

  • 34190 photographic materials
  • 3285 digital files (3GB)
  • 446 serials
  • 292 ephemera
  • 284 digital media
  • 156 drawings (including 126 reprographic copies)
  • 33 books
  • 12 notebooks
  • 6.25 l.m. of textual records
  • 2 artefacts
  • 1 maps

Scope and Content

*** Please contact the CCA's Reference Team (ref@cca.qc.ca) to access the full finding aid for this fonds. ***

The Joseph Rykwert fonds, 1928 - 2022, groups in four series the records created over the sixty-year career of architectural scholar, author and professor Joseph Rykwert, born 1926 in Warsaw, Poland. The fonds documents Rykwert’s professional life from England, to the United States, Europe, and Australia, from his beginnings as a student and later independent designer in London in the post-war years (see series AP209.S3) to his years as Professor Emeritus often solicited for his expertise from the late 1990s to the present day (see series AP209.S2).

Joseph Rykwert’s work as an author, a critic and an editor is documented through administrative records and correspondence as well as manuscripts, illustration galleys and proofs circulating between Rykwert and publishing houses, literary agents, translators, and peers. The manuscripts and illustration galleries are found both on paper and born-digital, and thus document the broader technological and methodological turn of the publishing field at the turn of the 20th and 21st centuries. Joseph Rykwert’s teaching career, meanwhile, developed alongside his literary activities, and is documented through administrative correspondence, lecture notes, and documentation from consultancies and juries Joseph Rykwert took part in. The series AP209.S2 Academic career, 1942-2019, includes a collection of over 20,000 slides used during his lectures. His brief career as a draftsman, and his longer stint as an independent creator, are both documented through a number of architectural drawings, administrative correspondence and photographic records of completed projects and prototypes, as well as the records for the 1994 Leon Battista Alberti Exhibition held at the Palazzo Te in Mantua, Italy, which include catalogue proofs and photogrammetry records. A voluminous correspondence with friends and collaborators (see series AP209.S4) documents Rykwert’s work in a more informal manner, and include manuscripts from other creators.

Joseph Rykwert’s born digital records have yet to be processed and described; materials will likely include manuscripts and administrative correspondence related to his academic activities, as well as a large number of digital photographs.

Reference Number



The records of the Joseph Rykwert fonds were originally arranged alphabetically according to Joseph Rykwert’s own subject headings and often included lists of contents written by Rykwert and his assistants. This arrangement was maintained in the physical order of the files. To facilitate research, the processing archivist provided an intellectual arrangement which structures records in four series representing distinct spheres of activity:

Series AP209.S1 Writing and publications, 1952-2021

Series AP209.S2 Academic career, 1942-2019

Series AP209.S3 Architecture and design projects, circa 1947-2008

Series AP209.S4 Correspondence and personal papers, 1928-2022

Digital materials were removed for disk imaging and have yet to be processed and described.

Biographical notes

Joseph Rykwert, born 1926, is an architectural historian, author and professor. Through a pedagogical approach developed in the 1960s and 1970s, Rykwert sought to open architectural studies to the humanities, including archaeology, anthropology and psychology. A critic of the rationalist and formalist tendencies of modernism in architecture as of the impact of neoliberalism on the urban form, Rykwert has emphasized the embodied and experiential nature of buildings and cities in books (The Idea of a Town, 1976), articles and lectures, most notably at the University of Essex (1968 - 1980) [2].

Rykwert was born in Warsaw, Poland, to a Jewish family of Polish and Russian heritage. Forced to flee Poland upon its 1939 annexation by Nazi Germany, the family settled in England where Rykwert would pursue studies at Charterhouse School, the Bartlett School of Architecture, and eventually at the Architectural Association at the close of the Second World War. While at Charterhouse, Rykwert attended the seminars of art historian Rudolph Wittkower, of the Warburg Institute in London. He would later state that his encounter with Wittkower’s work and with the Warburgian perspective would prove a lasting influence throughout his career [3]. Joseph Rykwert's work and multidisciplinary approach took part in a renewal of the discipline of art history, to which the London Warburg Institute and its affiliated researchers were instrumental. Many of these researchers, and indeed the Institute itself, were also part of the Jewish diaspora displaced from Central Europe by the rise of Nazism [4].

Joseph Rykwert’s interest in the theory and history of architecture would eventually overtake his architectural training—he never registered as an architect—but his skills as a draftsman led him to work for established firms such as Fry & Drew, Richard Sheppard, and Ove Arup & Partners in the late 1940s. He would continue working as an independent designer, collaborating with fellow Architectural Association graduates such as Patrick Crooke, from the 1950s through the 1970s [5], just as his teaching career began and two books were published, On Adam’s House in Paradise (1972) and The Idea of a Town (1976). He also met editor and author Anne Engel, whom he would marry in 1972, and whose contributions to his own writing career would be, in his own words, immeasurable [6]. Rykwert and Engel would co-write a book on the neoclassical architects the Adams brothers, James and Robert Adam: The Men and the Style (1984), in the wake of the publication of Rykwert’s First Moderns: The Architects of the Eighteenth Century by MIT Press (1980).

Between 1962 and 1988, Rykwert lectured at the Royal College of Art (1961 - 1968), at the University of Essex (1968 - 1980), and at the University of Cambridge (1968 - 1988). He published, as well as the books mentioned above, a number of reviews, articles and essays. A frequent traveler to Italy since his student days, he struck a friendship with Milan-based architect Gio Ponti and would long contribute to his periodical Domus [7]. The late 1980s brought Rykwert and his family to the United States as he took on the Paul Philippe Cret Professorship of Architecture at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, where he taught until 1998, becoming Professor Emeritus in the same year. He had, in 1994, organized a large exhibition on the work of Leon Battista Alberti (1404 - 1472) in collaboration with Anne Engel and architect Robert Tavernor, the culmination of decades of research which has begun with Rykwert’s edition of the original text of Alberti’s De re aedificatora, published 1955.

Joseph Rykwert earned his PhD from the Royal College of Art in 1970 and has since been awarded multiple honorary degrees from universities in Europe and in America, such as the University of Pennsylvania, the University of Edinburgh, the University of Bath, the University of Toronto, and the Sapienza University of Rome. He was made a Chevalier de l'Ordre des Arts et des Lettres in France in 1984 and a Commander of the Order of the British Empire in 2014, when he was also awarded the Royal Institute of British Architects’ highest honour, the Royal Gold Medal. Since the 1984 publication of James and Robert Adam, Rykwert also published The Dancing Column : On Order in Architecture (1996), The Seduction of Place: The History and Future of Cities (2000) and The Judicious Eye: Architecture Against the Other Arts (2008). Joseph Rykwert has a son, Sebastian Rykwert, and a stepdaughter, Marina Engel. Anne Engel, his partner, co-author and collaborator, passed away in 2015. Joseph Rykwert, whose memoirs Remembering Places were published in 2017, still lives in Belsize Park, London.

[1] George Baird, “‘A Promise as Well as a Memory:’ Towards and Intellectual Biography of Joseph Rykwert” in George Dodds, Joseph Rykwert, and Robert Tavernor, eds., Body and Building: Essays on the Changing Relation of Body and Architecture (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 2005), 8 - 17.

[2] Helen Thomas, “Invention in the Shadow of History: Joseph Rykwert at the University of Essex,” Journal of Architectural Education 58, no. 2 (2004): 39 - 45; Joseph Rykwert, Preface, The Idea of a Town: The Anthropology of Urban Form in Rome, Italy and the Ancient World (Cambridge, Mass: MIT Press, 1988), 23 - 26.

[3] Joseph Rykwert, Remembering Places: A Memoir (London ; New York: Routledge, 2017), 88 - 92, 133 - 135. Rykwert attended the library of the Warburg Institute for his research in the 1950s.

[4] Among these researchers were the art historian Fritz Saxl, who moved the Warburg Institute and its library from Hamburg to London in 1933 as the Nazis were voted into power; Erwin Panofsky, who popularized the iconological approach developed by Aby Warburg; and Ernst Gombrich, who led the Institute from 1959 and would review Rykwert’s Adam’s House, “Dream Houses,” The New York Review of Books, November 29, 1973, https://www.nybooks.com/articles/1973/11/29/dream-houses.

[5] Rykwert, Remembering Places, 103 - 108, 122 - 124; Geraint Franklin, “Inner Court, 48 Old Church Street. London Borough of Kensington and Chelsea: Historic Buildings Report,” Research Department Report Series (Swindon, UK: English Heritage, 2007), 2 - 4.

[6] Joseph Rykwert, The Dancing Column: On Order in Architecture (Cambridge, Mass. London: MIT, 1996), xvi - xviii.

[7] On Joseph Rykwert’s work in Italy and its reception, see Franklin, “Inner Court,” 2 - 4 and Baird, “‘A Promise as Well as a Memory,’” 18 - 23.

Conditions governing access

  • Access by appointment only.

Conditions governing reproduction

  • For copyright information or permission to reproduce material from the fonds, please contact reproductions@cca.qc.ca.

Immediate source of acquisition or transfer

  • Gift of Joseph Rykwert on February 14, 2019.

Custodial history

The archives of Joseph Rykwert were prepared and packaged with the help of research assistants at his home in London. They were transferred to the CCA on June 21, 2022.

Archivist's note

  • The Joseph Rykwert fonds was processed and described by Processing Archivist Flo Vallières from 2022-2023. Materials were processed down to the file level and physically rehoused in archival enclosures. Digital archives technician Élisabeth Genest disk imaged all born digital materials at the time of processing, however the material has not yet been processed. Florence Vallières-Lepage is a white archivist of colonial French descent with intergenerational ties to the settler-colonial project. Prior to training as an archivist, Vallières studied art history and cultural theory. Vallières’ research currently focuses on local colonial histories.

Credit line

When citing the collection as a whole, use the citation “Joseph Rykwert fonds, Collection Centre Canadien d’Architecture/Canadian Centre for Architecture, Montréal.” When citing specific collection material, please refer to the object’s specific credit line.


© Joseph Rykwert

Language of material

English, Italian

Other finding aids

  • A bibliography of published materials included in the fonds is available as a PDF upon request; please note the bibliography does not include serials to which Joseph Rykwert was a regular contributor, such as Domus or The Times Literary Supplement.

General note

  • Researchers may encounter racist terms and images showing restricted cultural practices and ceremonies in Joseph Rykwert’s writing and correspondence, as well as the writing and correspondence of other actors documented in the fonds. Please take care and seek support if needed. The processing archivist sought to flag such occurrences at the file level and invites researchers to signal problematic materials to the reference or archival team if they wish to.

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