Ada Louise Huxtable (née Landman; March 14, 1921 – January 7, 2013) was an architecture critic and writer on architecture. Huxtable established architecture and urban design journalism in North America and raised the public’s awareness of the urban environment. In 1970 she was awarded the first ever Pulitzer Prize for Criticism. Architecture critic Paul Goldberger, also a Pulitzer Prize-winner (1984) for architectural criticism, said in 1996: “Before Ada Louise Huxtable, architecture was not a part of the public dialogue.” “She was a great lover of cities, a great preservationist and the central planet around which every other critic revolved,” said architect Robert A. M. Stern, dean of the Yale University School of Architecture.
“When it is good, this is a city of fantastic strength, sophistication and beauty. It is like no other city in time or place. Visitors and even natives rarely use the words urban character or environmental style, but that is what they are reacting to with awe in the presence of massed, concentrated, steel, stone, power and life.”
Ada Louise Huxtable was a renowned architecture critic that wrote many passionate articles fighting for the preservation of architecturally significant buildings in New York City.Ada Louise Huxtable (1921–2013) was one of the most powerful voices in architecture in the latter half of the twentieth century. As architecture critic of The New York Times in the 1960s and ’70s, she carried enormous weight, securing or sinking many an architectural reputation, christening or thwarting many a project, and shaping the tastes and values of the public throughout the United States. She was the first woman named to the jury of experts for the distinguished Pritzker Architecture Prize, on which she served from 1987 to 2005. Her thunderous prose resonated loudly through the cavernous canyons of New York City: crisp, hard-hitting, but elegant, lucid prose that stirred admiration, contempt, and sometimes just plain awareness of buildings she thought significant.
Anna Bergren Miller, “Ada Louise Huxtable Remembered at Metropolitan Museum of Art Tribute,” Planetizen.com: The Urban Planning, Design, and Development Network, http://www.planetizen.com/node/63572, posted June 13, 2013.
She never minced them. Words like “shoddy,” “half-baked,” and “spineless” were part of her style, contributing considerably to her success. Her texts showed a love of alliteration, an awareness of rhythm and cadence, and the need for an attention-snapping, knockout punch line; typically, too, her writings bore a deeper, fundamental truth. She wrote naturally, without contrivance, choosing her words carefully and using them sparingly, preferring the short and simple to the multisyllabic and verbose—a disciple here as elsewhere of Mies’s “Less is More.” She said much with little, loved writing, and did it with flair.
But writing was only a tool. Her passion was architecture and the urban environment, particularly that of New York City. Although she wrote on other things—architects, buildings, other cities—Manhattan was her favored terrain.
. To Robert Venturi’s notion of “complexity and contradiction in architecture,” Huxtable would add continuity and change, all part of the living heritage of the present. This final essay addresses matters of quality in architecture, the elements that make a good building, especially those constructions that have proved their lasting worth by continued use. Most of all, the essay conveys her commitment to the city of New York, where she lived her entire ninety-one years. After reading her essays—including those that fend off the criticism heaped on modernist glass boxes that she saw as “the breathtaking essence of New York,” whose “soaring, faceted, reflective mass gives the city both its hard-edged brilliance and its powerful poetry”—one cannot walk the streets of New York the same way again.
As Paul Goldberger, her successor at the Times, so simply and eloquently put it, she made architecture matter to us all.