Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Ada Louise Huxtable

Ada Louise Huxtable died this past Monday.  Her influence was so strong that every architect of my generation must have felt her presence while he worked.  She was THE architectural critic who set the standard for all later practitioners; always well informed, well connected, but at the same time always uncompromisingly CRITICAL.  And after all, that is what a critic is supposed to be. 

I’ve looked through my newspaper clippings, and didn’t find any article by her on a project I was connected with.  This is to be expected since she gave up her Sunday column at the New York Times in 1982, just before I became involved in some of the high profile projects of 80’s and 90’s.  Nevertheless, I remember Sunday mornings with Ada’s prose, which was direct, opinionated, and refreshingly free of fashionistics.  A very nice interview of her by the New York Times is here.

Her best book, in my opinion was The Tall Building Artistically Reconsidered (1982).  It takes up the old argument over how to “dress” the structural skeleton of a skyscraper, and was titled after Louis Sullivan’s The Tall Office Building Artistically Considered. She sides with the rational, modern solution of glass and steel, but you can’t avoid the feeling that she misses the lyrical play of the Beaux Art at its best.

Huxtable always emphasized “reason and reality”, and was skeptical of power and profit.  But you have to see the whole mix, and she was exceptional at seeing with a clear eye how far art could impinge on business, and vice versa.  

I don’t have any drawing that might illustrate her life, but I think she would be agreeable to allowing Sullivan the “last line.”

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