Ada Louise Huxtable, who pioneered modern architectural criticism in the pages of The New York Times, celebrating buildings that respected human dignity and civic history — and memorably scalding those that did not — died on Monday in Manhattan. She was 91.
NOT MENTIONED HERE (NATCH…IT IS THE NY TIMES) IS THE FACT THAT ADA LOUIS HUXTABLE WAS ALWAYS EFFUSIVE IN HER PRAISE FOR THE RESTORATION OF JERUSALEM AFTER 1967. AN INTERNATIONAL COMMITTEE WAS FORMED TO “MONITOR” ISRAEL’S ADHERENCE TO HISTORY, RELIGIONS ETC. IN REBUILDING AND SHE WAS ASKED TO BE ON IT AND GAVE ISRAEL KUDOS FOR THE SENSITIVITY TO ALL FAITHS, THE DESIGNS AND THE RESTORATIONS…..NOT QUITE WHAT THE “INDEPENDENT” COMMITTEE WANTED….CAN’T FIND THIS ON ANY SEARCH ENGINE…BUT I WAS PRESENT TO HEAR HER SPEAK OF IT….RSK
Her lawyer, Robert N. Shapiro, confirmed her death. She lived in Manhattan and Marblehead, Mass.
Beginning in 1963, as the first full-time architecture critic at an American newspaper, she opened the priestly precincts of design and planning to everyday readers. For that, she won the first Pulitzer Prize for distinguished criticism, in 1970. More recently, she was the architecture critic of The Wall Street Journal.
“Mrs. Huxtable invented a new profession,” a valedictory Times editorial said in 1981, just as she was leaving the newspaper, “and, quite simply, changed the way most of us see and think about man-made environments.”
At a time when architects were still in thrall to blank-slate urban renewal, Ms. Huxtable championed preservation — not because old buildings were quaint, or even necessarily historical landmarks, but because they contributed vitally to the cityscape. She was appalled at how profit dictated planning and led developers to squeeze the most floor area onto the least amount of land with the fewest public amenities.
She had no use for banality, monotony, artifice or ostentation, for private greed or governmental ineptitude. She could be eloquent or impertinent, even sarcastic. Gracefully poised in person, she did not shy in print from comparing the worst of contemporary American architecture to the totalitarian excesses of Hitler, Mussolini and Stalin.
“You must love a country very much to be as little satisfied with it as she,” Daniel Patrick Moynihan, later a United States senator from New York, wrote in his preface to a 1970 collection of Ms. Huxtable’s writings, “Will They Ever Finish Bruckner Boulevard?”
It was the first of several books whose titles alone conveyed her impatient, irreverent tone. These included “Kicked a Building Lately?” (1976) and “Goodbye History, Hello Hamburger” (1986).
Though knowledgeable about architectural styles, Ms. Huxtable often seemed more interested in social substance. She invited readers to consider a building not as an assembly of pilasters and entablatures but as a public statement whose form and placement had real consequences for its neighbors as well as its occupants.
“I wish people would stop asking me what my favorite buildings are,” Ms. Huxtable wrote in The Times in 1971, adding, “I do not think it really matters very much what my personal favorites are, except as they illuminate principles of design and execution useful and essential to the collective spirit that we call society.