It was with great sadness that we learned of the death of Ada Louise Huxtable. The famed architecture critic for the New York Times and The Wall Street Journal, Huxtable "changed the way most of us see and think about man-made environments," said an editor at the Times. In 1963, she became the first full-time architecture critic for an American newspaper, and in 1970, she won the first-ever Pulitzer Prize for distinguished criticism.
Still writing at 91, Huxtable's piece about the $300 million restructuring plan for the New York Public Library appeared in the Journal just a few weeks ago. In Undertaking Its Destruction, Huxtable's honest, eloquent, smart, witty and somewhat saucy style is in full gear as she writes "This is a plan devised out of a profound ignorance of or willful disregard for not only the library's original concept and design, but also the folly of altering its meaning and mission and compromising its historical and architectural integrity. You don't 'update' a masterpiece. 'Modernization' may be the most dangerously misused word in the English language."
"Buildings change; they adapt to needs, times and tastes," she continued. "Old buildings are restored, upgraded and converted to new uses. For architecturally or historically significant buildings with landmark protection, the process is more complex; subtle, subjective and difficult decisions are often required. Nothing, not even buildings, stands still."
Huxtable inspired us and made us think about the world that surrounds us. I love her for using "august" as an adjective — referring to the library as "an august institution" — which I rarely see except for in the poetry of Wallace Stevens. My compass and my mentor, you will be missed.