Newspaper article International Herald Tribune

Ada Louise Huxtable, 91, a Pioneer of Modern Architectural Criticism

Newspaper article International Herald Tribune

Ada Louise Huxtable, 91, a Pioneer of Modern Architectural Criticism

Article excerpt

Beginning in 1963 as the first full-time architecture critic at a U.S. newspaper, The New York Times, Ms. Huxtable opened the priestly precincts of design and planning to everyday readers.

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.

Her lawyer, Robert N. Shapiro, confirmed her death.

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.

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.

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.

"For irreplaceable examples of that spirit I will do real battle."

Actually, there was no mistaking what Ms. Huxtable liked -- Lever House, the Ford Foundation Building and the CBS Building in Manhattan; the landmark Bronx Grit Chamber; Boston's City Hall; the East Building of the National Gallery of Art in Washington; Pennzoil Place in Houston -- and, even more delectably, what she did not.

"Albert Speer would have approved," she said in 1971 about Edward Durell Stone's Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, linking Mr. Stone indirectly to the Nazis' chief architect. "The building is a national tragedy. It is a cross between a concrete candy box and a marble sarcophagus in which the art of architecture lies buried."

This was a far cry from the fawning coverage of new buildings that Ms. Huxtable deplored in the newspapers of the 1950s. …

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