School of Architecture Faculty Remember Tony Vidler

POSTED ON: October 27, 2023

School of Architecture Celebration

Tony Vidler with colleagues and students at a 2019 School of Arhitecture celebration.

As The Irwin S. Chanin School of Architecture mourns the passing of Anthony Vidler, colleagues and friends at The Cooper Union share their remembrances of him, his profound impact on the discipline and history of architecture, and his decades-long role as a transformative educator.
Nader Tehrani—Tony’s presence is synonymous with architecture itself: his writing in Oppositions forming a critical foundation for an entire generation, his research transforming our reading of the Enlightenment, and his subsequent books, such as The Architectural Uncanny, revealing a protean capacity to speak across ages and architectural debates. His insatiable curiosity never ceased and continued through his scholarship to his last moments. Mine is a tribute to the person behind that scholarship—a ‘former dean’ of formidable warmth, a person who expanded the meaning of a true ally. Possibly more comfortable as the éminence grise, Tony offered his wisdom with delicate generosity, imposing himself only gently, knowing when to recede to allow a new generation to emerge. He was infinitely forgiving, allowing mistakes without rash judgment. A disciplined parliamentarian, he helped rebuild our governance through robust debate, embracing discourse as a collective enterprise. A gracious diplomat, his intellect served as his best guide, knowing that humor was often the best weapon when gravity did not suffice. In an era thoroughly lacking in decorum, Tony gave us a sense of history and perspective. And when all else failed, he was always there for a scotch, humbly acknowledging that not all problems had a solution. Architecture has lost a great friend and ally; I know I speak for all of us when I say that I will miss Tony immensely!
Samuel Anderson—I first met Tony Vidler in the fall of 1976, when he was a teaching and research Fellow at the Institute for Architecture and Urban Studies, and I was a neophyte intern. It was an inspiring and lively but intimidating place, where people took themselves very seriously. Despite his towering intellect, knowledge, and fluency, Tony conveyed no pretenses. On the contrary, he was warm, sincere, and full of wit. What a wonderful man to have known for all these years.

Design III Review, Fall 2015
Design III Review, Fall 2015

Diana Agrest—Writing about Tony in the past tense is an emotional challenge, and I write these words with a heavy heart. He was not just a friend; he was a unique and enduring presence in my life, where our personal and intellectual dimensions were in sync over the years. Tony has been a true and significant friend, ever since our paths crossed at the Institute for Architecture and Urban Studies in New York, where we both became Fellows, engaging in an active part of what was to be a defining moment in architecture's critical path.
I met Tony as I was engaged in the criticism of the ideology of urban planning models, while Tony was visiting from Princeton, where he taught. We were strangers to each other, but our connection was immediate. It was Tony's perspicacious and provocative wit that was evident from the moment we met, and from there, our enduring friendship and intellectual camaraderie was born.

While a Fellow at the IAUS, following an open call, I received a full-time appointment at Princeton's School of Architecture. Our approaches to architectural discourse differed, as I delved into the capitalist implications of architectural ideology influenced by French Structuralism, Post-structuralism, and political philosophy, while Tony was rooted in a British school of thought. It was a divergence that led to many passionate and greatly productive discussions at Princeton.

In 1973, when the IAUS Oppositions journal was founded by Eisenman, Frampton, and Gandelsonas, we were both contributors in its first issue, Oppositons 1. This connection between Princeton and the IAUS, and our intellectual worlds, was instrumental in developing new frontiers for a critical thinking of architecture.

Tony's involvement in Oppositions grew as he guest edited the memorable issue on the Beaux Arts, in a way an indictment of the more complacent approach of MoMA's Beaux Arts exhibition that opened at the time. After that, Tony became an editor of Oppositions and a Fellow at the IAUS, so our paths intertwined in our parallel work—Tony was working as a historian, as I worked on architecture practice and theory while we both taught in the education programs there, partaking in all the Institute's celebrations, exhibitions, and exchanges with other Fellows and the New York architectural community.

Tony's gift for writing, coupled with his prodigious memory and boundless curiosity, were extraordinary. He approached every subject with depth in research and a unique perspective. Tony was a historian with an architect's heart and eyes, adept at articulating the complexities of the formal and sociopolitical aspects of architecture, from his work on the French Enlightenment, such as his landmark book on Claude Nicolas Ledoux, to his fascinating essay on the architecture of the Lodges, the Beaux Arts, and through to Modernism.

An inquisitive mind and creative spirit permeated all of Tony's work, spanning history, contemporary architectural questions, and touching on art, literature, politics, and film. It was in this transdisciplinary approach that we found common ground. On a personal note, I was privileged when he insisted on writing the introductory essay for Agrest and Gandelsonas Works.

Tony Vidler and Diana Agrest
Thesis review, Spring 2006.

Our paths crossed once more at The Cooper Union, where I had been teaching for many years after leaving Princeton, as Tony assumed the role of Dean. It was a challenging and monumental undertaking with regard to the significance of John Hejduk's legacy, but Tony approached it with a certain modesty, despite his standing in the field. Tony not only upheld this legacy but, focusing equally on the discipline as on the discourse of architecture, he sowed the seeds that brought the school to the great place it is today, with Nader Tehrani following as Dean.

As Dean, Tony championed academic freedom, among other things carrying on the tradition where faculty curated their own end-of-year shows. He also opened the "sanctum" of the Dean's office to the entire faculty and staff, bringing a sampling of his gourmet expertise to this event, therefore fostering collegiality and camaraderie in our shared commitment to teaching and the school, an event that we eagerly anticipate to this day.

Among his many contributions as Dean, Tony's creation of the graduate program stands out. I had the privilege of working with him in the context of the Curriculum Committee to shape the program's scope, concept, and direction. He entrusted me with the Advanced Design Studio, where he implicitly allowed complete freedom to propose and develop pedagogical approaches, such as the Architecture of Nature / Nature of Architecture studio, which he steadfastly supported.
Tony was a giant in the history of architecture, an intellectual with boundless curiosity, creative energy, a great sense of humor, and an exceptional histrionic talent manifested in his captivating lectures and seminars. But beyond his professional achievements, Tony was a cherished personal friend who shared in the joys of life.

His voice and generous spirit will be sorely missed, leaving a profound void in our world and our hearts. However, this void will be filled with the enduring legacy of an exceptional human being who touched countless lives as an intellectual, historian, teacher, and mentor.
Lydia Kallipoliti—Tony (Anthony) Vidler—my mentor, colleague, beloved friend, and inimitable force of life—shaped me and my life as an architect and a thinker. I owe him a debt that can never be repaid. But just as he shaped me, he shaped so many others. Most importantly, 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. My loss, however gutting, is collective; a void that cannot be filled by another soul.
Tony was a living encyclopedia, and in our weekly dinners he persuaded me over the last years to write an

Tony Vidler and Lydia Kallipoliti
  Thesis review, Spring 2012.

environmental encyclopedia, even though I resisted and conceived it as a giant act of chronic constipation. Tony felt this struggle in a visceral way and his partially British impulse to “carry on,” and produce an enormous body of work in his life, was coming from the understanding that parthenogenesis—the state of the mind generating pure ideas, unprecedented and unmixed with anything in the physical world—is a fallen myth. Even Tony, whose sheer brilliance connected so many dots, relied on the ethic of work and the labor of writing that to him was a primordial need, a proof of life and an inevitability. Another indelible mark on me was his teaching that the line between the past, present, and future is an illusion. As a historian and a voracious researcher, whose mind was enlivened by curiosity, he saw the future within fragments of the past and the past within forecasts of the future. Learning from him and thinking with him, as a historian, I began to think of time as a mixture of past, future, and present stretched in spatiotemporal dimensions.
In his memory, I post here a short video of his talk at The Cooper Union in an event in 2016, where he pretended to be the sociologist John McHale, with a Scottish accent. This video evidences Tony’s spirit, humor, and boundless energy as a human and an educator, which was the other side of the immense body of work he left behind in his many books, texts, and exhibitions.
Elizabeth O’Donnell—When Tony came to The Cooper Union in 2001 as a professor and a dean, he had already made a significant mark on the discipline, having been a renowned scholar, writer, and teacher for over three decades. As an historian, Tony studied, analyzed, and interpreted the past, but as a teacher he lived and taught wholly in the present. His concerns were of and for the contemporary world, of history’s potential to help us understand our world and architecture’s capacity to contribute in a meaningful way to its future. He was an extraordinary teacher through his final days.
Tony and I worked together at the School of Architecture for twelve years; it was a remarkably vital time at the school. Tony engaged and empowered faculty and students alike to continue the school’s work of reimagining what a professional education in architecture might be. He was an intellectual force and an exceptional colleague, an eloquent spokesperson for the school and for the power of architecture. He invited new faculty to the school and supported continuing faculty to develop new courses, challenging all to evolve the curriculum, strengthening the school’s commitment to drawing and model making while fostering a parallel rigor in research, coursework, and advanced seminars. He encouraged critical investigations into the potentials for new computational and digital methods to serve as both analytic and synthetic tools. He insisted that students and faculty address the growing urgencies of the world through the lens and the action of making architecture: environmental degradation, the fragilities of cultures, civic instability, and the unacceptable consequences of extreme inequality. As teachers, researchers, and architects, we were continuously challenged to bring the work of studio and the work of the classroom closer together—design and history, design and theory, design and language. 
Through it all we were inspired by Tony’s own prodigious creative work. Beautifully conceived books that are a pleasure to read, illuminating lectures, probing exhibitions. Tony was a giant in our discipline, and he was also our dear friend. A brilliant mind, a warm and generous heart, and a gracious host on innumerable occasions. Thank you, Tony. I am grateful for the time working and learning together with you. You will be sorely missed.  

Fall 2017 Thesis Review
Thesis Review, Fall 2017

Guido Zuliani—Many will celebrate Tony’s indisputable scholarly achievements that through the years have shaped architectural debates and culture; many will celebrate Tony, especially here at Cooper, for the incredible, committed educator that he was. There will be time for all of this and for recognizing his tremendous legacy that survives in the work of his many students and colleagues. Right now, instead, I cannot but remember and celebrate Tony as a wonderfully generous colleague and friend with whom I have shared an office for about a decade, and who I already deeply miss.
During the time we spent working together, sometimes the occasional reappearance of a particular book from behind the many that covered most of the walls of our shared space, or the emergence of an old handwritten document from the papers that filled the boxes surrounding his chair, or simply an old slide, become for Tony the occasion, if not an invitation, to narrate a segment or a particular moment of his life—and through that, with a few words, the chance to illuminate the nature of a particular historical moment, its events, its protagonists, its social and cultural pathos. A rare gift from an individual who lived his life with great commitments, participation, and empathy.
Tony never held back in sharing his experiences and thoughts, and his advice and critiques as well. Our lunches consumed sitting at our desks, were the occasions for me to listen to, and to discuss, among other things, his thoughts about the dire state of our world today and his constant preoccupation, and sometimes indignation, for the responsibilities of our discipline. But he never lost his generous, energetic optimism. This tension constantly animated his work with his students: for Tony the practice of teaching had to project, to embody, as generously as possible, such preoccupations, and among the many things that I received from him is the fundamental understanding that to operate, as he had always tried to do as an educator, is above all, and in the most profound way, a civic act.
Thank you, Tony for everything you’ve given me, and everybody else you encountered. I miss you a lot, already. Goodbye, my friend.


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