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10.15.2008
Stephen A. Kliment, 1930-2008
Lance Jay Brown recalls a forceful champion for architecture

kristen richards
 
 

Stephen Kliment, a true gentleman in the best sense of the word, was a deliberate and forceful champion for architecture. His work as an architect, writer, critic, journalist, editor, and teacher had a profound and positive impact on the growth of the profession in the last half of the 20th century and into the tumultuous beginnings of the 21st. In addition to his sublime wit and great intellect, Stephen showed in the issues he addressed a sense of youth that belied his age in years. Many, including myself, were astonished to learn that Stephen was approaching the age of 80 at the time of his passing. He was challenged, thankfully without pain, by pancreatic cancer, and, accompanied by his wife Felicia, died in Germany while undergoing an experimental treatment.

Stephen Kliment was born in 1930 in Prague and grew up in Czechoslovakia and England. In 1948 he fled his native country, by then under Communist rule, and went to the United States. Following his early architectural studies at the École Spéciale d’Architecture in Paris and at the University of Havana in Cuba, he graduated from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1953 and received a masters degree in architecture from the Jean Labatut-led School of Architecture at Princeton in 1957.

After graduation, Stephen followed a traditional professional path and started work with Skidmore, Owings & Merrill; in 1969, he returned to practice as partner in the firm of Caudill Rowlett Scott. Stephen, who was ultimately best known for his leadership in architectural journalism, was the editor of Architectural and Engineering News from 1961 to 1969 (then at John Wiley & Sons, where he worked from 1987 to 1990), and was the founding editor of the highly successful Building Type Basics series. In 1990, Stephen became editor-in-chief of Architectural Record, where he remained until 1996. A profoundly ethical man, Stephen left Record following a policy dispute with the publisher. Since 2002 he had been the editorial director of Oculus, the journal of the New York chapter of the American Institute of Architects, and eOculus, the chapter’s newsletter. His incisive opinions were published in The New York Times and he was the current editor of The Principal’s Report.

He was a man committed to a socially responsible profession. His extensive work on issues of diversity was recognized with an honorary membership in the National Organization of Minority Architects. In an email, Ted Landsmark, president of the Boston Architectural College, wrote, “Steve was the architecture profession’s conscience on increasing diversity. His understanding of the challenges faced by people of color seeking to contribute to the design fields enabled him to make specific, pragmatic recommendations that are finally being implemented.”

Early in 1997, Stephen accepted my invitation to teach at the School of Architecture, Urban Design and Landscape Architecture at the City College of New York. He became an indispensable member of the faculty, teaching writing on architecture to students, mentoring younger faculty, and quietly helping guide curriculum policy while finishing his 1998 book Writing for Design Professionals. Judy Connorton, director of CCNY’s Rudeman Architecture Library, wrote: “Steve cut through jargon-laden prose, which he saw too much of in current architectural writing, teaching his students clear, direct communication.” Dean George Ranalli added, “Stephen Kliment was an invaluable resource to the School. He worked tirelessly with our students, imparting his knowledge, his consummate writing skills, and his passion for architecture. He will be missed both personally and professionally.”

Stephen was in all ways a teacher. In 2003, when we worked together on the post-9/11 AIA publication Learning From Lower Manhattan, the emphasis on learning was maintained by his writing for and editing of this important report-card document. Kristen Richards, current Oculus editor, said, “Steve’s active involvement in Oculus and eOculus was a major reason I accepted the position as editor. His sharp, red-pencil editing—no archi-babble allowed—made all of us better writers and the publications both informative and enjoyable reads.”

Stephen Kliment is survived by his wife, author Felicia Drury Kliment, their two daughters, Pamela Drury Kliment and Jennifer Kliment Wellander of Seattle, two grandchildren, and his brother Robert, a partner in Kliment-Halsband Architects.

Lance Jay Brown

Lance Jay Brown is a fellow of the American Institute of Architects, a professor of architecture at CCNY, and the principal of Lance Jay Brown Architecture and Urban Design in New York.