I was deeply saddened to learn this week that Ada Louise Huxtable had passed away. For those of us who write about buildings, she was a titan: a historical figure who basically invented the profession of architecture critic 50 years ago, and was still doing it, very well, this winter.
Nothing I’ve written on No Mean City would be possible without her. Nothing in Spacing would be possible without her.
Here is the New York Times’s obit. It was at the Times that she – “a young, brash, believing woman” with an architectural-history degree – became an unlikely power player in the world of development and planning.
She defined how to write about these subjects for a general audience, bridging the scholarly and the concrete, highbrow and slangy. She understood construction and finance, zoning and traffic, the history of architecture and the realities of marketing. She made architecture part of serious conversation.
She knew that buildings are made out of money, power and politics, and she was also a staunch defender of the public good: grand public buildings, diverse and lively streets, parks that are pleasant to be in, private spaces that serve their users comfortably. Her contemporary Jane Jacobs thought about the big picture; she thought about the big picture and also the details. In retrospect, she was right about everything.