Ada Louise Huxtable, icon of architectural criticism, was born in New York City on March 14, 1921. To mark what would have been the 100th birthday of this pioneering woman, the lecture hall at the Getty Research Institute has been named the Ada Louise Huxtable Lecture Hall.
At the time of her death, in 2013, the Research Institute acquired Huxtable’s archive—all of her personal and professional papers—which capture the exceptional scope and impact of her career. In addition, Huxtable generously bequeathed her entire estate and her intellectual property rights to Getty, in order to advance the study of architecture.
The Research Institute is undertaking a digital humanities research project to make the Ada Louise Huxtable archive more widely accessible through innovative methodologies, including digital presentation and data analysis.
In 1963, at the age of 42, Huxtable was named the first full-time architecture critic of the New York Times. The first person, let alone woman, ever to hold the journalistic position of “architecture critic,” Huxtable wrote for the New York Times from 1963 to 1982, before moving to the Wall Street Journal from 1997 to 2012.
In 1970 she was awarded the first Pulitzer Prize for Distinguished Criticism. In 1979, the year the Pritzker family established its award for achievement in architecture, she served as the first woman on the jury for the Pritzker Architecture Prize. She received the MacArthur fellowship in 1981.
She published more than 10 books, including The Tall Building Artistically Reconsidered: The Search for a Skyscraper Style (1985); and Goodbye History, Hello Hamburger: An Anthology of Architectural Delights and Disasters (1986).
Over her five-decade career, Huxtable became interested in architecture’s political and urbanistic commitments, and her work increasingly included a study of how architecture relates to everyday life. She moved away from a model of architecture criticism that focused on connoisseurship, and toward a form of public journalism in which she wielded political influence.
Huxtable was one of the most influential and avidly read architecture writers in the U.S. She captivated a popular audience and was influential until the end of her life. Just a few weeks before she passed away, at the age of 91, she published “Undertaking Its Destruction” and initiated a battle to rescue the 42nd Street Library, a landmark building in Mid-Manhattan and one of the world’s greatest research institutions. Completed in 1911 by Carrère and Hastings in a lavish classical Beaux-Arts style, it is an architectural masterpiece.
Huxtable, a committed preservationist, wrote “Buildings change; they adapt to needs, times and tastes. Old buildings are restored, upgraded and converted to new uses. . . .But there are better options than turning the library into a hollowed-out hybrid of new and old. The radically different 21st-century model deserves a radically different style of its own, dramatically contemporary and flexible enough to accommodate rapid technological change.”
Huxtable died on January 7, 2013, too soon to learn that the plan to renovate the 42nd Street Library that she criticized would be rejected.