Ada Louise Huxtable (1921-2013)

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A Writing Life Built on the Power and Joy of Architecture – an appreciation of Ada Louise Huxtable in The New York Times; she died yesterday at the age of 91.  The NYTimes is where she started as the “first full-time critic writing on architecture for an American newspaper” in 1963.  She was a huge voice for the importance of thoughtful architecture and urban design along with, as the author of this article points out, Lewis Mumford and Jane Jacobs.

Patrician, old-school, crusty and softhearted, she never wrote as if she owed anything to anyone except her readers, treating her beat as a mix of aesthetics and public policy, art and advocacy, technology and politics, because to write about architecture as anything less would be to shortchange its complexity and significance.

Here’s Huxtable herself, writing in The New York Times Review of Books:

“When so much seems to conspire to reduce life and feeling to the most deprived and demeaning bottom line, it is more important than ever that we receive that extra dimension of dignity or delight and the elevated sense of self that the art of building can provide through the nature of the places where we live and work. What counts more than style is whether architecture improves our experience of the built world; whether it makes us wonder why we never noticed places in quite this way before.”

Type her name into a search today and you’ll get more hits than you can read.  Here’s a selection:

  • Ada Louise Huxtable, Chapion of LIvable Architecture, Dies at 91 – another from The New York Times, with biographical info and quotes
  • In Memoriam: Ada Louise Huxtable – from Dwell, has a list of 10 things to know about her
  • In Memoriam: Seven Great Lines From Archicritic Ada Louise Huxtable – from Curbed
  • Tribute to Ada Louise Huxtable – this is a 1996 piece by Paul Goldberger – “She has made architecture matter in our culture in a way that it did not before her time.”
  • An ace fills the straight – 1998 reviews in The Economist of a number of architecture books, including The Unreal America by Huxtable – “Amid such straight and basically well-behaved company, Ada Louise Huxtable, a former architecture critic of the New York Times, has no difficulty in standing out. It is 25 years since she gave up her main Times job. But she has lost none of her commitment. Her latest book, “The Unreal America”, which came out last year, is an angry counterblast against the taste for “invented environments” exemplified by fantasy theme-parks, fake-old new towns and heritage preservations. You may or may not agree with her judgments or with her vision of architecture as a matter of social and moral urgency. But nobody can read this book without recognising an engaged and deeply knowledgeable voice.”

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