Blair Kamin ’79 P ’15
PLACE OF BIRTH
Red Bank, NJ
1999 Visiting fellow, Franke Institute for the Humanities, University of Chicago
1984 Master of Environmental Design, Yale School of Architecture
1979 Bachelor of Arts, cum laude, Amherst College
1975 Co-valedictorian, Rumson-Fair Haven Regional High School (Rumson, NJ)
WHY DID YOU CHOOSE TO COME TO AMHERST?
The architecture had something to do with it, though it wasn’t the usual spot (Memorial Hill) that sealed the deal. Instead, I distinctly remember saying “This is the place” while sitting at one of those big wood tables in the Music Building library and looking out the huge sheets of glass at (of all places) Pratt Quad. What spoke to me, in other words, wasn’t the vista but the bracing modernity of the structure that framed it. An adventurous building promised an adventurous education, a fresh way of looking at the world.
FAVORITE (MOST MEMORABLE OR MOST INFLUENTIAL) CLASS AT AMHERST
Leo Marx’s “Thought and Action” freshman seminar taught the virtues of intellectual honesty, an essential lesson for a critic-to-be. But it was Joel Upton’s illuminating lectures on the great French Gothic cathedrals--Notre Dame of Paris, Chartres, Reims and Amiens--that sparked my passion for architecture. Fittingly, I now work in a neo-Gothic skyscraper, the Chicago Tribune Tower, which was inspired by some of these very buildings.
FAVORITE (MOST MEMORABLE OR MOST INFLUENTIAL) PROFESSOR
Leo Marx, Joel Upton, Hugh Hawkins, Barry O’Connell, Robert Gross, and (if I might) the students of Amherst. One of the revelations I had at the College was that you learned from your fellow students, not just from your professors.
HONORS AND AWARDS
2003 National Magazine Award for general excellence, as part of an Architectural Record team recognized in the 100,000 to 250,000 circulation category.
1999 The Pulitzer Prize for Criticism
1996 The George Polk Award for Criticism
1993-2010 The Peter Lisagor Award for Exemplary Journalism (13-time winner)
Architecture and Related Fields
2008 Engineering Journalism Award, American Association of Engineering Societies
2004 Presidential Citation, American Institute of Architects
2001 Wright Spirit Award, Frank Lloyd Wright Building Conservancy
1999 Institute Honor for Collaborative Achievement, American Institute of Architects
1998 Journalistic Excellence Award, Friends of the Parks
1997 Richard Driehaus Foundation Preservation Award, Landmarks Council of Illinois
1996 Engineering Journalism Award, American Association of Engineering Societies and Engineering Foundation
2010 “Best Books of 2010,” as named by Kai Ryssdal, host of American Public Media’s “Marketplace,” for Terror and Wonder: Architecture in a Tumultuous Age.
2002 “Best of the Best from University Presses,” Association of American University Presses and American Library Association, for Why Architecture Matters: Lessons from Chicago.
2009 Doctor of Fine Arts, North Central College
2003 Doctor of Humanities, Monmouth University
TIPS FOR ASPIRING WRITERS?
1) Be passionate about your subject. If you don’t care, why should the reader?
2) Scrutinize every word for whether it smoothes the reader’s path through the story or sets up obstacles. As a wise editor once told me, “The easiest thing for the reader is to quit reading.”
3) Pick a wise editor. He or she will bring out the best in you and prevent you from looking foolish.
4) Study the work of writers you admire and identify the qualities that make them powerful thinkers and elegant stylists. Then infuse those characteristics into your own work in your own way.
5) Get your facts straight, and feel free to challenge anything and everything your sources tell you. As the old Chicago journalism saying goes, “If your mother says she loves you, check it out.”
TELL US A BIT ABOUT YOUR PATH TO BECOMING AN AUTHOR
My path was anything but glamorous and, geographically speaking, quite circuitous. After Amherst, I bounced around the country, from Miami to my hometown of Fair Haven, N.J. to San Francisco to New Haven to Houston to Des Moines, before finally settling in Chicago. Along the way, though, came some important discoveries, the most notable of which was that I would rather write about architecture than practice it. By 1999, after I’d been the Chicago Tribune’s architecture critic for seven years, I was toying with the idea of putting together a collection of columns book. Then, lightning struck. While I was on a fellowship at the University of Chicago, the Pulitzer gods smiled on me. And that undoubtedly helped to open the door at the University of Chicago Press.
Blair Kamin is the architecture critic of the Chicago Tribune, the writer of the Cityscapes blog, and a contributing editor of Architectural Record magazine. He has lectured widely and has discussed architecture on programs ranging from ABC's "Nightline" to NPR’s “All Things Considered.” The University of Chicago Press has published two collections of his columns: Why Architecture Matters: Lessons from Chicago (2001) and Terror and Wonder: Architecture in a Tumultuous Age (2010). Kamin also wrote the commentaries for Tribune Tower: American Landmark, a guide to the newspaper's neo-Gothic skyscraper published in 2000. He is the recipient more than 30 awards, including the Pulitzer Prize for Criticism, which he received in 1999 for a body of work highlighted by a series of articles about the problems and promise of Chicago's greatest public space, its lakefront. He has twice served as a Pulitzer Prize juror and is an adjunct professor of art at North Central College.