The built environment lost one of its pillars this week when renowned architecture critic and ardent preservationist Ada Louise Huxtable passed away Monday at age 91. As the first full-time architecture critic for a daily American newspaper, Huxtable won the first Pulitzer Prize ever awarded for distinguished criticism in 1970, seven years after she joined the New York Times staff in 1963. In recent years, her writing appeared in the Wall Street Journal.
“Ada Louise Huxtable was one of the earliest and most consistent champions of preservation and the need for humanity in architecture,” says National Trust Executive Vice President and Chief Preservation Officer David J. Brown. “Her thoughtful perspective, along with her witty and sometimes sharp tongue, made her a force to be reckoned with in the field of planning, urban design, and preservation -- and a must-read for New Yorkers. She will be missed.”
Known for not only her pointed critiques but also her passion for practical preservation, Huxtable condemned the demolition of architectural treasures such as New York’s Penn Station and San Francisco’s 1915 Palace of Fine Arts and argued for sensible architecture that considered social and humanitarian needs.
As the New York Times put it in a January 7 obituary (our emphasis added):
“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.”
In a March 2011 profile in Dwell magazine, Huxtable recounted her early role in the movement to save New York’s 19th century buildings.
“Preservationists were just little old ladies in tennis shoes when I started,” she said.
The push to protect historic architecture has come a long way since then, and it was thanks to smart and passionate figures like Huxtable fueling the fire.