Witold Rybczynski—Scholar, Author, Friend
As we end our tenure as founding co-editors of the Wharton Real Estate Review, I tip my hat to my co-editor, Witold Rybczynski, who will be retiring from Penn's faculty at the end of this academic year, leaving a giant void in his wake.
I was aware of Witold's writing in the early 1990s. His cogent observations were crystal clear, a dramatic contrast to most architectural scholars. It was apparent that he wanted to be understood rather than merely impress people with clever jargon. I admired him greatly for this, as it was a philosophy I shared. I first met Witold as the result of a search for the Martin and Margy Meyerson Chair in Urbanism. Since the appointment was in the Graduate School of Fine Arts, I was an odd choice to chair this committee (it is highly unusual that a Wharton School heathen is entrusted with such a task), but attempts to fill this prestigious chair, named after a former university president who had been a member of the GSFA faculty, had run aground the two previous years. The chair search was a key component of returning the School to its former greatness.
As we conducted an international search of scholars in planning, design, architecture, and urbanism, Witold was by far our top choice. But would he come? After all, he was comfortably ensconced at McGill University as a prestigious professor in a strong program, while Penn's program had seen better days. Further, Witold was a Canadian citizen and had spent his adult life in Canada. Happily, after considerable negotiation, he accepted, arriving at Penn in 1993. Wharton immediately gave Witold a secondary appointment in the real estate program and engaged him to teach a course on design and planning for business students.
Witold bestowed gravitas, clarity, and prestige on the GSFA. In addition, he brought strength of personality and an absolute commitment to integrity and communication. Since that time he has been a beacon of brilliance in the School, which has regained its standing among the finest design schools in the country.
Witold and I founded the Wharton Real Estate Review in 1997. Our goal was to create a journal that was accessible to leading business decision makers, as well as academics and students, covering real estate topics spanning from technical financial issues to design. We shared a belief that every paper would be edited until it was readable and clear, a notable contrast to most journals. We have never had a single editorial disagreement, a rarity in life, and certainly in academia. Further, Witold has always taken care of the nitty-gritty processing of the Review. And he has honored our mutual pledge that we would "put our own best ideas" in each issue, following our belief was that if we did not put our best papers in the Review, why should anyone else?
I am amazed at Witold's productivity. Not only has he published two or three papers a year in the Review, as well as articles in other journals and the popular press, but he has published books on the architecture of Palladio, a noted biography of Frederick Law Olmsted, an overview of American urbanism, and other topics. He is one of the most prolific writers of architecture in the last century, and his impact will reverberate for years to come. Witold is not only a great scholar and a stimulating colleague, he is a joyous person. I have never seen him angry in our many years of friendship (though I suspect his wife, Shirley, could point out a few times). He has the upmost integrity and is always transparent in his dealings.
I must admit that I am jealous of Witold's writing skills. When I write I am haunted by knowing that Witold would say it clearer. Fortunately for my readers, I have been blessed by his editing over the past 15 years. If my papers have had any impact, it is in no small part due to his careful overview.
One of my favorite articles is our paper on "Shrinking Cities." Writing together was a joy, and we were the first to suggest that many urban areas must shrink to be more efficient. This idea has since caught on in Detroit, Akron, and many other urban areas.
I owe a debt of gratitude to Witold, from whom I have learned so much about design, planning, and architecture. He greatly eased my load when I was director of Wharton's Zell-Lurie Real Estate Center and chairman of the Real Estate Department. I knew I could always count on him. As he retires, Witold joins the great names associated with Penn. His steady hand and brilliant writing will be missed, but while he will be gone from Penn, his impact will long remain.
Paper Heroes: Appropriate Technology: Panacea or Pipe Dream? (Anchor Books/Doubleday, 1980)
Taming the Tiger: The Struggle to Control Technology (Viking, 1983)
Home: A Short History of an Idea (Viking, 1986)
The Most Beautiful House in the World (Viking, 1989)
Waiting for the Weekend (Viking, 1991)
McGill: A Celebration (1991)
Looking Around: A Journey Through Architecture (Viking, 1992)
A Place for Art/Un lieu pour l'art: The Architecture of the National Gallery of Canada (National Gallery of Canada, 1993)
City Life: Urban expectations in a new world (Scribner, 1995)
A Clearing in the Distance: Frederick Law Olmsted and North America in the Nineteenth Century (Scribner, 1999)
One Good Turn: A Natural History of the Screwdriver and the Screw (Scribner, 2000)
The Look of Architecture (Oxford University Press, 2001)
The Perfect House: A Journey with Renaissance Master Andrea Palladio (Scribner, 2002)
Vizcaya: An American Villa and Its Makers (with Laurie Olin; University of Pennsylvania Press, 2006)
Last Harvest: How A Cornfield Became New Daleville: Real Estate Development in America (Scribner, 2007)
My Two Polish Grandfathers: And Other Essays on the Imaginative Life (Scribner, 2009)
Makeshift Metropolis: Ideas About Cities (Scribner, 2010)
The Biography of a Building: How Robert Sainsbury and Norman Foster Built a Great Museum (2011)
Copyright 2012 Peter Linneman.