Portrait of Ada Louise Huxtable by Lynn Gilbert, 1981

Ms. Huxtable passed away four years ago today on January 8, 2013.  She was 91.  Today we celebrate her life.  Here  is a reminder of her persona and passion . . .

“I take history and authenticity seriously. I have never disguised my defense of originals over copies, or my distaste for the Disneyfication of reality or the more genteel “authentic reproduction,” an oxymoron that devalues the creative act by glossing the knockoff with a false veneer of respectability, because a faux is a fake is a phony, by any other name. And I have been one of the most ardent defenders of the small, personal museum that you remember with particular affection, as opposed to the awe inspired by the increasingly affectless grandeur of our enormous arts institutions that expand relentlessly as their price of admission rises.” (1)

New York City was lucky to have Ada Louise Huxtable fighting on the front lines of our visual reality; the built world around us, this system we call New York City.  One of the most eloquent writers on architecture in the last century, Ms Huxtable could turn a phrase that would stick to any building like a massive post-it for all eternity.  Just cite the “Lollipop Building”, Edward Durell Stone’s ignominious failure, the 1964 building at 2 Columbus Circle.  Ms. Huxtable truly believed that architecture was part of our fabric and spirit as city dwellers. A notion that is relatively lost today.

“It was not until our own day that this great art became irrelevant, that the tradition of building well ceased to matter. For those in positions of power, architecture has no redeeming value; it is a frill to be eliminated as a virtuous, cost-cutting, vote-getting measure; it can be abandoned without regret. It took today’s mean mentality to see cathedrals and courthouses as ‘wasted space,’ to consider beauty as an extravagant and expendable add-on only now has that impoverishment of the human spirit become politically and aesthetically correct. What no one appears to have noticed, while deploring the decline of public standards, is that trashy buildings trash the institutions and people they serve.” (2)

One the most delightful civic advancements in public space to happen in downtown Manhattan in a long time is the High Line. Urbanism has been in decline for a century but projects like the High Line gives us hope for the future.  Here is Ms. Huxtable on the importance of this space and landscape in general . . .

“In one of those totally unpredictable shifts in sensibility that occur when least expected, it is the landscape architects who are re-engaging today’s radically innovative aesthetic with human needs and social functions; this is where the essential connections with the human condition are being made. And just in time, as architects, seduced by celebrity and technology, engaged in a dead-end contest in egos and engineering, have become more fixated on object making than place making, more removed from the intrinsic social purposes of their art.” (3)

-JSB

Further Reading:

1. http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/culturemonster/2008/09/close-reading-l.html

2. http://www.nytimes.com/books/first/h/huxtable-unreal.html

Footnotes:

  1. Ada Louise Huxtable, The New Barnes Shouldn’t Work-But Does, Wall Street Journal,
  2. Ada Louise Huxtable Unreal America: Architecture and Illusion, The New Press, 1999
  3. Ada Louise Huxtable Down-to-Earth Masterpieces of Public Landscape Design, Wall Street Journal,