The great Ada Louise Huxtable, who pretty much invented architecture criticism in her writing for the New York Times and Wall Street Journal, has died at the age of 91.
Wednesday’s Journal features an impressive tribute to Huxtable:
Editors’ note: Ada Louise Huxtable, architecture critic of The Wall Street Journal, died Monday at age 91. The dean of architecture critics, she was so widely read and influential that her name was known even to those who did not keep up with the field on a regular basis.
Born and educated in New York City, Huxtable was hired as architecture critic of the New York Times in 1963, the first such critic on the staff of an American newspaper. Her work there earned her, in 1970, the first Pulitzer Prize awarded for criticism and, in 1981, a MacArthur Fellowship. She joined the Journal in 1997 . . .
As a critic, Huxtable combined the forensic skill of a Clarence Darrow with the righteous passion of an Old Testament prophet. Her prose was clarion-clear and uncompromising, yet leavened by wit and verve.
(Illustration by the hardworking staff’s old friend Ken Fallin, late of the Boston Herald.)
The Journal piece offers representative samples such as this, which Huxtable wrote just last month:
There is no more important landmark building in New York than the New York Public Library, known to New Yorkers simply as the 42nd Street Library, one of the world’s greatest research institutions. Completed in 1911 by Carrère and Hastings in a lavish classical Beaux Arts style, it is an architectural masterpiece. Yet it is about to undertake its own destruction. The library is on a fast track to demolish the seven floors of stacks just below the magnificent, two-block-long Rose Reading Room for a $300 million restructuring referred to as the Central Library Plan. . . .
The vacated stacks would house a state-of-the-art, socially interactive, computer-centered Mid-Manhattan branch designed by the library’s chosen architect, the British firm of Foster+Partners. . . .
[A]fter extensive study of the library’s conception and construction I have become convinced that irreversible changes of this magnitude should not be made in this landmark building. . . .
Buildings change; they adapt to needs, times and tastes. Old buildings are restored, upgraded and converted to new uses. . . .
But there are better options than turning the library into a hollowed-out hybrid of new and old . . .
And this, which Huxtable wrote in 2006:
It has become depressingly clear with the completion of its new building that MoMA has ended an era of lively personal relationships with the art and mysteries of modernism to become a sedate high-ticket institution of predictable corporate culture and safe social chic. It feels like an old friend who is suddenly rich and remote after moving into expensive new digs. Who knew that its destiny would look like this?
In the New York Times, where Huxtable got her start, Michael Kimmelman filed this affectionate appraisal:
The great architecture critic Ada Louise Huxtable, who died on Monday at 91, started writing for The New York Times in 1963 and just a few weeks ago was still making the most of her bully pulpit for The Wall Street Journal, railing against proposed changes to the New York Public Library building at 42nd Street.
She cared about public standards, social equity, the whole city. When I wrote some months back aboutbranch libraries in Queens and elsewhere that have opened lately, thanks to the city’s Design Excellence Program, she shot me an e-mail: “These projects are clear, visual demonstrations, which people need in order to understand how a high standard of architectural design and the refusal to go with hack work can have very real and sometimes unanticipated social, human, environmental and neighborhood consequences, often in parts of the city that need it so badly and that we hear so little about.”
Her tastes didn’t waver over the decades, nor did her standards. She liked Boston’s City Hall when it opened in 1968, although most people didn’t, and she liked it 40 years later, when a young generation of architects was coming around to its Brutalism, but much of the public still wanted to tear it down. The building was “uncompromising,” she wrote.
Whose like we will never see again.