Kevin Lippert, Publisher of Architectural Books, Dies at 63

When Kevin Lippert was a graduate student in architecture 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 if they could be reprinted in smaller formats and made available at a reasonable price, students would happily pay for them.

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

In a pilot project, he experimented first with “Recueil et Parallèle des Edifices de Tout Genre” (“Survey and Comparison of Buildings of All Types”), a book published in 1800 by the French architect Jean-Nicolas-Louis Durand. He made elaborate copies in large sheets measuring 20 by 26 inches and placed them in wooden boxes, the better to preserve them. At $300 apiece, they were beautiful but not very practical.

To broaden the appeal, he decided that his next book should be smaller, and that it should be bound. He selected a classic text: “Edifices de Rome Moderne” (1840), Paul Letarouilly’s three-volume masterpiece, sometimes called the most beautiful book on Renaissance architecture ever published. He found a printer who condensed the work into one volume that measured an easy-to-handle 9 by 12 inches and printed 1,000 copies.

Mr. Lippert hawked them to students for $55 apiece out of the trunk of his car. They sold out immediately.

Thus was born Princeton Architectural Press, of which he was founder and publisher. It eventually branched out beyond its classic reprint series to produce high-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 animated the multifaceted Mr. Lippert, who died on March 29 at his home in Ghent, N.Y., southeast of Albany. He was 63.

His wife, Rachel Rose Lippert, said the cause was complications of 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 who first performed at 6 and first composed music at 8. He started at Princeton as a pre-med student, until he was captivated by the history and philosophy of science and switched majors. Elected to Phi Beta Kappa, he earned his master’s degree from Princeton’s School of Architecture. He was a computer whiz and ran a tech services company, selling hardware and software to design businesses.

On the side, he cooked, biked, hiked, built furniture, gardened and fueled himself with innumerable cups of espresso. He was also a historian and wrote a book, “War Plan Red” (2015), about secret plans by the United States and Canada to invade each other in the 1920s and ’30s.

“He was a genuine polymath,” Mark Lamster, who worked for him at Princeton Architectural Press and is now the architecture critic at The Dallas Morning News, wrote in a tribute after his death.

But while Mr. Lippert was brimming with interests, his lasting legacy has been in the field of architecture. The press — which was founded in Princeton, moved to Manhattan, then upstate to Hudson, N.Y., and then back to Manhattan — had no formal affiliation with Princeton University, though Mr. Lippert’s Princeton credentials gave it credibility.

Early on, he met with a representative of Eastman Kodak 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 architectural forum, in 2004, that “if it’s one of our books, it’s almost certainly interesting, handsome, well edited and well made.”

His goal was to bring architecture to the widest possible audience and usher new voices into the conversation.

“There was a space between the academic, theory-heavy M.I.T. 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 championed emerging architects. He published Steven Holl’s seminal architectural manifesto, “Anchoring,” in 1989, and wrote the introduction to the book of the same name. Mr. Holl, in a tribute to Mr. Lippert on his website, called him “a committed intellectual and impresario for the culture of architecture.”

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

“He changed my life, and I think he changed a lot of people’s lives,” Mr. Kundig told Architectural Record. “Look at the list of books he published. He created a whole architectural universe.”

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

As his father pursued his academic studies in analytic chemistry at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, the family moved to Tennessee. They later moved to Ohio, and Kevin grew up chiefly in Toledo.

He taught himself to play his grandmother’s piano at 4, won numerous competitions and continued to play for the rest of his life, including recitals at Princeton, where he served as music director of the campus radio station, WPRB. He received his undergraduate degree in 1980 and his master’s in 1983.

He later taught at Princeton. An expert in digital technologies, he was an early proponent of the use of computer drafting and 3-D visualization tools.

In 2020, he received an arts and letters award in architecture from the American Academy of Arts and Letters.

In addition to his wife, Mr. Lippert is survived by 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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