Ada Louise Huxtable, the architecture critic who in two decades of writing for the
Huxtable, who in 1970 won the first
Wim de Wit, head of the department of architecture and contemporary art at the Getty Research Institute, said Huxtable's papers were historically significant in part because "she spoke powerfully as a woman in this world of men, the architecture world of the 1960s and '70s."
Huxtable was writing with her familiar fire and verve into her final years. As the architecture critic for the
Early last month the Journal published her review of plans to restructure the main branch of the New York Public Library.
The library, in working with the British architect
Ada Louise Landman was born March 14, 1921, in New York City. Her father, Michael, was a doctor. After earning a degree in art and architectural history from Hunter College and marrying in 1942, she pursued graduate work at
A Fulbright fellowship took her to
She was by then writing for a number of magazines and had begun work on what she imagined would be a six-part history of New York City architecture. While wrapping up the first volume she was recruited by the New York Times. Aline Louchheim had been writing about both architecture and art for the paper, but after she married architect Eero Saarinen, her editors decided it would be a conflict of interest to allow her to continue covering architecture.
"I went in all dressed up, with my clippings," Huxtable told WNYC radio host Leonard Lopate in 2008. "And I remember saying, 'All you've been doing is printing the developers' P.R. releases in your real estate section. You have nobody covering this very important field.'"
Huxtable was not the first architecture critic at an American daily – Allan Temko joined the San Francisco Chronicle in 1961, and long before that Montgomery Schuyler was writing for the New York Tribune – but she quickly established herself as an authoritative voice and a champion for historic preservation. More than a few real-estate developers, she told the Christian Science Monitor, "would be glad to have my head on a platter."
She reserved her most energetic scorn for those architects she saw as declawing or prettying up modern architecture. Edward Durell Stone came in for two of Huxtable's most infamous zingers. After she called his museum on Columbus Circle "a die-cut Venetian palazzo on lollipops," it became forever known as "the lollipop building."
She was even more dismissive of Stone's gilded Kennedy Center complex in
But Huxtable will be remembered for more than barbed prose. From her earliest days at the New York Times, she displayed a talent for writing about both the aesthetics and politics of architecture, a subject she described as "this uneasy, difficult combination of structure and art."
Today there is a seeming divide among architecture critics, with some sticking to the traditional duties of reviewing new buildings by prominent architects while others make a point of writing about everything but buildings: parks, urban planning or the fate of the planet. Huxtable showed that this gulf was easily crossed, writing at length at about a single architect's body of work one week and about preservation, politics or zoning the next.
Before the 1960s were out she had earned a reputation, with Pauline Kael and a few others, as one of the most powerful critics in the country. In 1970 she won a Pulitzer Prize in the newly created category of criticism, and the first collection of her essays, "Will They Ever Finish Bruckner Boulevard?" was published the same year.
By that time the world of architecture was in wild flux. The modernist architects she had championed were losing influence, their work replaced by an emerging style – what would become post-modernism – that she found by turns refreshing and facile.
"I don't know if critics are allowed to be ambivalent," she wrote in the opening line to a 1971 piece on
In 1973, she joined the New York Times' editorial board and Paul Goldberger, just 23, was named the paper's architecture critic. She continued to contribute Sunday essays on architecture, but after having enjoyed years of autonomy she often found it exhausting to bring fellow members of the editorial board around to her way of thinking.
After Huxtable was awarded a sizable MacArthur Fellowship prize in 1981, she jumped at the chance to leave the paper and write books and longer essays on architecture. She didn't return to newspaper criticism until 1997, when she was hired by the Wall Street Journal.
She also joined the jury for the Pritzker Prize, the most prestigious award in architecture. Her final books were a short biography of
In 2009, she figured in the TV drama "Mad Men." In an episode set in 1963, an ad agency executive reads aloud from a piece of hers condemning plans to demolish Pennsylvania Station.
But it was a much earlier appearance in the media that best summed up her influence. In 1968, the New Yorker published a cartoon featuring two construction workers at a building site, with steel rising behind them. One, reading a newspaper, turns to the other and says, "Ada Louise Huxtable already doesn't like it!"
She had no immediate survivors.