Anthony Vidler, longtime faculty member of the School of Architecture, dies at 82

Anthony Vidler—an internationally recognized scholar, a pioneering historian and critic of modern and contemporary architecture, an academic who helped shape the discipline, and a longtime esteemed faculty member of Princeton University’s School of Architecture—died last night, October 20. He was 82.

A faculty member of Princeton University’s School of Architecture from 1965 to 1993, Vidler served as the first director of the School’s History and Theory Ph.D. program and was foundational in its formation. He also served as the SoA’s William R. Kenan Jr. Chair of Architecture, the Chair of the Ph.D. Committee, and Director of the Program in European Cultural Studies; he later returned to the SoA as a Visiting Professor from 2014 until his passing.

"Tony transformed the discipline of architecture during his time at Princeton,” said Mónica Ponce de León, dean of the School of Architecture. “He was an integral figure in the history of the school. His legacy is present today and will continue for decades to come. We were fortunate that he had returned to teaching at Princeton and that new generations of SoA graduates and undergraduates students got to know him. This is a huge loss to the field of architecture, the world of ideas, and for our school."

Vidler grew up in Essex, England, where childhood experiences drawing historic buildings, as well as a teenage school trip to Venice, inspired him to dedicate himself to the study of architecture. He earned both a bachelor and master’s degree in architecture at Cambridge University, and later earned a PhD. in Architectural History and Theory at Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands, specializing in modern and contemporary architecture and urbanism. He would spend more than 50 years as a leader in architectural scholarship, teaching and writing prolifically, and ultimately shaping the field of study and touching the lives of countless students. After teaching at Princeton for nearly 30 years, Vidler served as Dean of the College of Art, Architecture and Planning at Cornell University, following his appointment as Chair of the Department of Art History at UCLA. In 2002 he became Dean of The Cooper Union Irwin S. Chanin School of Architecture, a position he held until 2013. He would remain as a member of the faculty at The Cooper Union, while holding a visiting professorship at Princeton.

“He seemed really, to know everything,” recalled Stan Allen, the George Dutton '27 Professor of Architecture. “From the intricacies of 18th-century masonic rituals, to theories of type and classification, language and philosophy, to the work of the contemporary architects who were his peers and his friends. His first-hand knowledge of post-war British architecture was second to none, and he could transition from sophisticated analysis to personal anecdote seamlessly. Tony spoke with the authority of one so secure with his knowledge that he had no need to parade his expertise. That was what made him such a great teacher.”

“Tony Vidler is in the DNA of Princeton,” said Beatriz Colomina, the Howard Crosby Butler Professor of the History of Architecture at Princeton. “He arrived to teach in the school of architecture in 1965 at the age of 24, soon followed by Kenneth Frampton and Alan Colquhoun. Like the British invasion in pop music, it was a revolution. Architectural history became cool and Princeton the place to be. Tony was always a remarkable colleague and mentor. After 30 years he moved to other schools but in a deeper sense he never left.”

Vidler was an extraordinary scholar and prolific writer. His works included The Writing of the Walls: Architectural Theory in the Late Enlightenment (Princeton Architectural Press, 1987), Claude-Nicolas Ledoux: Architecture and Social Reform at the End of the Ancien Regime (MIT Press, 1990) which received the Henry-Russell Hitchcock Award from the Society of Architectural Historians, The Architectural Uncanny: Essays in the Modern Unhomely (MIT Press, 1992),  Warped Space: Architecture and Anxiety in Modern Culture (MIT Press, 2000), Histories of the Immediate Present: The Invention of Architectural Modernism (MIT Press, 2008),  James Frazer Stirling: Notes from the Archive (Yale University Press, 2010), and The Scenes of the Street and other Essays (Monacelli Press, 2011).

In addition to teaching and writing, Vidler was a respected curator with several significant exhibitions. His projects included the installation of the permanent exhibition of the work of Claude-Nicolas Ledoux in the Royal Salt Works of Arc-et-Senans in Franche-Comté, France, and he curated the exhibition “Ledoux et les Lumières” at Arc-et-Senans for the European Year of Enlightenment. From 2008 to 2010 he was curator and editor for “James Stirling, Architect and Teacher,” a retrospective of Stirling's work on view at the Tate, the Staatsgalerie, the Yale Center for British Art and the Canadian Center for Architecture.

Vidler received fellowships from the Institute of Architecture and Urban Studies and the New York Institute for the Humanities. He was a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and received the architecture award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters in 2011. He also received awards from the Guggenheim Foundation and the National Endowment for the Humanities, and was a Getty Scholar at the Getty Center for the History of Art and the Humanities in 1992–93 and a Senior Mellon Fellow at the Canadian Centre of Architecture, Montreal, in 2005.

Ruo Jia *22, who was co-advised by Vidler on her Ph.D. in history and theory of architecture and is the founder and director of IfWorks and a visiting assistant professor at Pratt Institute, said he opened doors—literally.  At her first meeting with him, he rushed to hold the café door for her, a gesture she never forgot. “Reflecting on the moment, I realize that is indeed Tony in a profound way. He is so open and generous—testified by the seminars, the paper comments, and eventually the dissertation advisory I was later lucky enough to receive from him…He has opened and held a door to and a space of architecture theory where I find a place to finally belong and to play. Forever grateful, I hope to pass on that place, as well as the actions of opening and holding.”

“Tony was an inimitable force of life that shaped the choreography of my life as an architect, thinker and educator,” remembered Lydia Kallipoliti, who earned her Ph.D. at Princeton in 2013 and is now a visiting professor at the school and an associate professor at The Cooper Union. “He shaped the field of architectural discourse and the world of ideas itself. He saw the future in historical evidence and the past in forecasts of the future. And yet, he maintained an unwavering optimism in life and in the power of architecture to influence livelihood.”

Mario Gandelsonas, the Class of 1913 Lecturer in Architecture, professor of the School of Architecture and director of the Program in Urban Studies, had known Vidler since the 1970s, when the two met at the Institute for Architecture and Urban Studies and on the editorial board of Oppositions magazine. “We immediately discovered our shared belief in the power of architecture to impact culture and society as well as our mutual interest in the interplay of theory, history and design,” recalled Gandelsonas. “His scholarship, profound knowledge, wit and sense of humor left a lasting impression on those fortunate enough to experience his teachings. His absence will be deeply felt and his legacy will be cherished.”