Ada Louise Huxtable, who in 1963 became the first full-time architecture critic at an American newspaper, died yesterday in New York at 91-years-old.
Ms. Huxtable was named architecture critic by the New York Times at a time when steamrolling urban planners–most famously Robert Moses–were doing battle in the court of public opinion with members of the burgeoning preservation movement like Jane Jacobs, whose seminal book, The Death and Life of Great American Cities, was published in 1961.
Ms. Huxtable sided with the preservationists as she redefined modern architectural journalism. The Manhattan native spent her childhood enamored with Grand Central Terminal, the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Museum of Natural History, the Times said in Ms. Huxtable’s obituary. Her work as a set designer on Hunter College theatrical productions attracted the attention of the paper, and she wrote a piece for its Sunday magazine in 1958.
Ms. Huxtable was known and feared for her withering dismissals of prominent buildings that she felt neglected their civic responsibility. She called the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. a “national tragedy,” adding that Nazi chief architect “Albert Speer would have approved” of the building.
The Times obit points out that Ms. Huxtable’s condemnations were a far cry from the sycophantic architecture writing in most newspapers in the 1950s. While her pans attracted more attention than her raves, Ms. Huxtable was fond of Lever House, the Ford Foundation Building and CBS Building in Manhattan.