Lynch Award: Legacy

The Lynch award was established in 1988 to honor the memory of Kevin Lynch, an MIT alumnus, urban designer, author and 30-year faculty member in MIT’s Department of Urban Studies and Planning CDD Group (previously named Environmental Design Group).

Conferred to individuals or organizations whose work embodies and advances Kevin Lynch’s research as developed in his seminal books Image of the City (1960), What Time is this Place? (1972), Good City Form (1981) and Site Planning (1984), nominees are selected for their plans, books, research, designed projects, media productions, public processes or similar contributions.

“An environment that facilitates recalling and learning is a way of linking the living moment to a wide span of time. Being alive is being awake in the present, secure in our ability to continue but alert to the new things that come streaming by. We feel our own rhythm, and feel also that it is part of the rhythm of the world. It is when local time, local place, and our own selves are secure that we are ready to face challenge, complexity, vast space, and the enormous future.”
— What Time Is This Place? Kevin Lynch

Most of Kevin Lynch’s ideas about city form were already percolating during his first years as an assistant professor. As early as 1951, he urged that MIT’s department create a new “Center for Urban Research” focused on the “basic question” that would mark his life-long passion: “What should be the physical form of the metropolitan region in the future?” Lynch knew it was an unwieldy and normative question that could not be “answered directly by research.” Nonetheless, he argued, “it could be used as a basic direction” and as a means for assessing whether research projects held any “significance”.Thirty years later, Lynch wrote A Theory of Good City Form. As a Boston Globe memorial editorial put it, “Lynch’s work was pioneering because, unlike more imperious city planners, he consulted people first and plans second.”

A tribute essay written by three of his colleagues observed that, “Throughout his years at MIT, Kevin kept his hand in practice, testing his ideas, forming new ones, making things. He was a brilliant and subtle designer, always looking for those few simple strokes which would both give form to a place and open it to the creativity of its users. He always began with the site and the people who used it or lived on it. He believed in the right and ability of  individuals and communities to shape and manage their own environments and pushed gently but firmly at the institutions and governments who hired him to recognize that right. Working nearly always as a member of a team, he entered his ideas in simple words and sketches, letting them sink or swim on their own merits.”

Text from Lawrence J. Vale, “Changing Cities: 75 years of planning better futures at MIT”,