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Ada Louise Huxtable papers, 1859-2013 (bulk 1954-2012)

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Huxtable (Ada Louise) papers, 1859-2013 (bulk 1954-2012)

Biographical/Historical Note

Ada Louise Huxtable (née Landman, 1921-2013) was considered the most important voice in architectural criticism over the last 50 years. Born and raised in New York City, she graduated from Hunter College in 1941 and subsequently studied architectural history at New York University's Institute of Fine Arts. Ada Louise married the industrial designer L. Garth Huxtable in 1942. Because of their related interests, the couple frequently collaborated throughout their marriage. Together they worked on the design of tableware and serving pieces for New York's Four Seasons restaurant, and Garth's influence was also evident in her sporadic writing about the field of industrial design and through the numerous photographs he took to illustrate her writing. In 1946 Huxtable was hired by Philip Johnson to work as an assistant curator in the Department of Architecture and Design at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA). She left MoMA in 1950 upon receiving a Fulbright Scholarship which provided her the opportunity to travel to Italy and research Italian architecture and engineering. She also received a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1958 to support her research on the structural and design advances of American architecture. While Huxtable wrote freelance articles during the 1950s for several journals including Arts Digest, Progressive Architecture and the New York Times Sunday Magazine, her writing career was truly established with the publication of her first book based on her Fulbright research, Pier Luigi Nervi (1960). The New York Times hired Huxtable to write about architecture full time in 1963 when their art critic Aline Bernstein, the wife of Eero Saarinen, felt that she could no longer cover architecture without a conflict of interest. These unique circumstances placed Huxtable as the first ever dedicated architecture critic for an established daily newspaper.

Huxtable's writing on architecture focused on the importance of its humanistic meaning and artistic power; she often reserved her displeasure for projects that lacked civic engagement. With her writing occasionally appearing on the front page of the New York Times, Huxtable made architecture a more prevalent part of the public dialogue. Her approachable and irreverent or sarcastic style made for astute reviews of the city's built environments that were appreciated by readers and architects alike. Her hold on public opinion was so great that it was commemorated in New Yorker cartoons in 1968 and 1971. Her popularity and success can be attributed to a manner of treating architecture holistically, not solely considering a building's formal and aesthetic features, but also examining the social relations and material conditions of its particular context. She was an advocate for preservation over urban renewal and her essays championed the conservation of many important landmarks in New York and elsewhere in the country, eventually influencing the establishment of the Landmark Preservation Commission. In 1970 she received the Pulitzer Prize for Distinguished Criticism, the first year the category was established. Three years later Huxtable joined the newspaper's editorial board. Huxtable remained at the New York Times until 1982, when she was awarded a MacArthur Fellowship. A bibliography of her work at the New York Times is available here. Following her departure from the New York Times Huxtable committed herself to conducting research, publishing writing and advisory work. Subsequently, in 1997, Huxtable became the architecture critic for the Wall Street Journal where she contributed work until 2012.

Throughout her extensive career Huxtable published 11 books, some of which were curated selections of essays from her New York Times oeuvre compiled to explore specific themes such as Architecture Anyone? (1986), On Architecture (2008) and Will They Ever Finish Bruckner Boulevard? (1970). Huxtable was particularly adept at seeing how different groupings of her published articles expressed various themes. She also wrote several long-form books including The Tall Building Artistically Reconsidered (1985), Unreal America (1997) and Frank Lloyd Wright (2004).

Over the years Huxtable became such an important figture in the world of architecture, design and preservation that she was invited to participate in numerous juries and committees. She served as a juror for the Pritzker Architecture Prize and Praemium Imperiale of Japan and served as a member on the Architectural Selection and Building Design Committees for the Getty Center and Getty Villa, as well as many others. Huxtable was regularly lauded for her work in criticism and preservation activism and received numerous distinguished awards and honorary degrees. Her contributions to the fields of architecture criticism/writing and preservation are indelible.

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