Deborah Dietsch, a pioneering architecture writer and critic who served as editor-in-chief of Architecture Magazine in the 1990s, passed away September 10 at George Washington University Hospital in the District of Columbia from complications following an operation. She was 68.
According to a friend, John Walker, Dietsch suffered a back injury and required spinal surgery. “The surgery went well, but she suffered medical complications that she could not overcome,” Walker said an email message shared with her friends.
“Deborah knew architecture and loved writing about good design,” Walker said in his message. “She loved mid-century architecture, and she enjoyed living in her ‘mod box’ among the trees in [northwest Washington, D. C.] She was a loyal friend and a loving sister and aunt. We’ll miss her.”
A native of Washington and graduate of Columbia University, Dietsch wrote about architecture, art, and design for more than 30 years, in books, magazines, and newspaper articles. She also served on Baltimore’s design review panel for several years and on architect selection panels for government agencies and private property owners.
As the top editor of Architecture Magazine when it was based in Washington, D.C., Dietsch played a key role in determining what buildings were featured on the cover at a time before the internet, when architectural journals had more clout than they do now in influencing which designers are hired for plum commissions.
Her support helped bolster the careers of numerous rising architects whose work was highlighted in the magazine, such as Walter Chatham and Mark McInturff.
“She was an impactful writer,” said David Haresign of Bonstra | Haresign ARCHITECTS. “She had a great impact on the profession.”
Her coverage of a building he designed was “the first time I was ever published in a national magazine,” said McInturff.
In 2013, McInturff said, Dietsch traveled to Vienna with him, his daughter Marissa, architect Elizabeth Emerson, and his architecture students at the Catholic University of America.
“I am reminded what a great spirit she was, and how she loved to travel and see Architecture,” he said. “Her energy and curiosity were boundless, as was her knowledge of her field.”
Dietsch also helped drive the national conversation about design by editing a series of themed issues focusing on different building types and subjects, from “Green architecture” to children’s museums. In those topic issues, all the articles in the “design well” pertained to the chosen theme and represented the best contemporary work she and her staff could find.
She also helped shine the light on design subjects that she thought merited more attention, such as Googie architecture. She championed the Design Excellence Program of the U. S. General Services Administration and nurtured talented writers such as Reed Kroloff, Ned Cramer, and Raul Barreneche.
After leaving Architecture Magazine, Dietsch moved back to Washington and wrote for a variety of publications, including Home & Design Magazine, The Washington Post, and The Washington Examiner. At the time of her death, she was writing a column called “Design Perspectives” for The Washington Business Journal.
Her books include Architecture for Dummies; Classic Modern, and Live/Work: Working at Home, Living at Work. She focused on particular firms in books such as About Place: Goody Clancy’s Architecture, Planning and Preservation and The Architecture of the Washington Convention Center.
Walker wrote in his email that he and other friends of Dietsch’s are planning a memorial service, most likely via Zoom, for sometime later in the year. A date has not yet been announced.