Witold Rybczynski Biography


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Witold Marian Rybczynski (rihb-CHIHN-skee) was born in 1943 in Edinburgh, Scotland, to which his family had fled during World War II. After the war ended they settled in Surrey, England, where Witold attended Jesuit schools. He subsequently emigrated to Canada, where he received bachelor of architecture and master of architecture degrees from McGill University in Montreal. This institution was later to receive him into its architectural faculty as professor of architecture. In 1996 he moved to The Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, becoming Martin and Margy Meyerson Professor of Urbanism and the director of the Urban Design Program.

Rybczynski first attracted wide attention with the publication in 1980 of his first book, Paper Heroes. “Appropriate technology” (AT), of which Rybczynski is hailed as one of the founding fathers, is described by the architect as “part lay religion, part protest movement, and part economic theory.” AT has as its aim the humanization of technology, which includes adapting methods of industrialization to the particular countries to be developed (this idea is especially valid for the developing world), a process that advocates the careful planning of industrial development with an eye toward the particular needs, abilities, and native, human, inventive resources of the particular developing country. At its spiritual base, AT is concerned with redefining humankind’s relationship to the machines it creates. AT seeks to foster an organic interaction of human and machine: a relationship in which people are in control of the technology they create and in which work ceases to be a harrowing grind and becomes, rather, a fulfilling, creative task that emphasizes the creative being.

Rybczynski’s next theoretical work, Taming the Tiger, exhibits a more philosophical bent than the previous Paper Heroes. In Taming the Tiger, Rybczynski discusses humankind’s love/hate relationship with technology. Throughout the ages, Rybczynski notes, people have cautiously flirted with technological progress, moving further and further toward an ever more machine-oriented society—while gingerly protesting against said progress, afraid that the...

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(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Colin, Molly. “Witold Rybczynski: A Self-Described Workaholic, He Chose Leisure as His Latest Subject.” Publishers Weekly, July 25, 1991. A review of Waiting for the Weekend.

Lehmann, Ulrich. Review of The Look of Architecture, by Witold Rybczynski. Architectural Record 190, no. 9 (September, 2002). According to Lehmann, Rybczynski’s “parochial tone serves to front a political agenda.”

Rybczynski, Witold. “Landscape Artist.” Interview by Sage Stossel. The Atlantic Monthly, July 14, 1999. An extensive interview with Rybczynski.

Young, Pamela. “A Rebel in the Parlor: Architect Witold Rybczynski.” Maclean’s, August 18, 1986. An overview of Rybczynski’s work to 1986.