The noted architecture critic Ada Louise Huxtable died Monday 7 January at the age of 91. A resident of Manhattan and Marblehead, she was the first architecture critic ever to receive a Pulitzer Prize for criticism awarded in 1963 and the first full time architecture critic at any American newspaper. Huxtable joined the staff of the New York Times in 1963 and later became the Wall Street Journal’s architecture critic in 1997, a post she held up until her death. Her writings are legendary and prolific, culminating in more than 10 books over her lifetime. She was an astute observer of the city who was never without an opinion.
Reporting on Huxtable’s death in the New York Times today, Michael Kimmelman said that Huxtable would often email him to weigh in on the current scene, such the city’s Design Excellence Program, which she lauded and Foster & Partner’s current scheme for the New York Public Library, a project she didn’t like much and in fact ‘railed against’ in a one of her last columns for the Journal. In that piece she extolled the virtues of the Library’s original Beaux Arts building, its processional path from entry to exit and its grand reading room at the top, calling it the most important landmark building in New York and comparing Fosters redesign to a ‘vast internet cafe’, a result she blamed not so much on the architect but rather on short sighted vision of the powers that be to transform the ‘People’s Palace’ as she called into just another dumb building.
Her assessment of the New York Library project was just one of many stories that dealt with the public realm, for which she was tireless advocate, caring as she did as Kimmelman said ‘about public standards, social equity, the whole city’. She was elegant in her writings and in her general demeanor. Kimmelman called her ‘Patrician, old-school, crusty and softhearted and above all dedicated to her readers’.
Huxtable will be missed!