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via: New York Times.
Ada Louise Huxtable, who pioneered modern architectural criticism in the pages of The New York Times, celebrating buildings that respected human dignity and civic history — and memorably scalding those that did not — died on Monday in Manhattan. She was 91.
Her lawyer, Robert N. Shapiro, confirmed her death. She lived in Manhattan and Marblehead, Mass.
Beginning in 1963, as the first full-time architecture critic at an American newspaper, she opened the priestly precincts of design and planning to everyday readers. For that, she won the first Pulitzer Prize for distinguished criticism, in 1970. More recently, she was the architecture critic of The Wall Street Journal.
“Mrs. Huxtable invented a new profession,” a valedictory Times editorial said in 1981, just as she was leaving the newspaper, “and, quite simply, changed the way most of us see and think about man-made environments.”
At a time when architects were still in thrall to blank-slate urban renewal, Ms. Huxtable championed preservation — not because old buildings were quaint, or even necessarily historical landmarks, but because they contributed vitally to the cityscape. She was appalled at how profit dictated planning and led developers to squeeze the most floor area onto the least amount of land with the fewest public amenities.
She had no use for banality, monotony, artifice or ostentation, for private greed or governmental ineptitude. She could be eloquent or impertinent, even sarcastic. Gracefully poised in person, she did not shy in print from comparing the worst of contemporary American architecture to the totalitarian excesses of Hitler, Mussolini and Stalin.
“You must love a country very much to be as little satisfied with it as she,” Daniel Patrick Moynihan, later a United States senator from New York, wrote in his preface to a 1970 collection of Ms. Huxtable’s writings, “Will They Ever Finish Bruckner Boulevard?”
It was the first of several books whose titles alone conveyed her impatient, irreverent tone. These included “Kicked a Building Lately?” (1976) and “Goodbye History, Hello Hamburger” (1986).
Though knowledgeable about architectural styles, Ms. Huxtable often seemed more interested in social substance. She invited readers to consider a building not as an assembly of pilasters and entablatures but as a public statement whose form and placement had real consequences for its neighbors as well as its occupants.
“I wish people would stop asking me what my favorite buildings are,” Ms. Huxtable wrote in The Times in 1971, adding, “I do not think it really matters very much what my personal favorites are, except as they illuminate principles of design and execution useful and essential to the collective spirit that we call society.
“For irreplaceable examples of that spirit I will do real battle.”
Actually, there was no mistaking what Ms. Huxtable liked — Lever House, the Ford Foundation Building and the CBS Building in Manhattan; the landmark Bronx Grit Chamber; Boston’s City Hall; the East Building of the National Gallery of Art in Washington; Pennzoil Place in Houston — and, even more delectably, what she did not.
“The new museum resembles a die-cut Venetian palazzo on lollipops,” she wrote in 1964 about the Gallery of Modern Art at 2 Columbus Circle. Her description came to be synonymous with the structure itself, “the lollipop building,” and was probably more familiar to New Yorkers than the name of the architect: Edward Durell Stone.
The long-abandoned gallery has since been substantially altered as the Museum of Arts and Design. It might be argued that Ms. Huxtable’s lollipop epithet helped doom preservationists’ later efforts to save the original facade. But Mr. Stone’s romantic brand of monumental modernism was never to her liking.
“Albert Speer would have approved,” she said in 1971 about his Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, linking Mr. Stone indirectly to the Nazis’ chief architect. “The building is a national tragedy. It is a cross between a concrete candy box and a marble sarcophagus in which the art of architecture lies buried.”
This was a far cry from the fawning coverage of new buildings that Ms. Huxtable deplored in the newspapers of the 1950s. And it was welcomed.
Ada Louise Landman was born on March 14, 1921, to Leah Rosenthal Landman and Dr. Michael Louis Landman. She grew up in Manhattan in a Beaux-Arts apartment house, the St. Urban, at Central Park West and 89th Street, and wandered enthralled through Grand Central Terminal, the Museum of Natural History and the Metropolitan Museum.
She attracted notice in The Times at an early age with her stage-set designs for Hunter College productions of “The Yellow Jacket” in 1940 and “H.M.S. Pinafore” in 1941. After graduating from Hunter in 1941, she attended New York University’s Institute of Fine Arts. But her most treasured academic home was probably the Avery Architectural Library at Columbia University.
Out of school, she was hired by Bloomingdale’s to sell a furniture line with works by Eero Saarinen and Charles Eames. “Many young architects and designers made the obligatory tour of the rooms,” she recalled. “One of them noticed and married me.”
That was L. Garth Huxtable, an industrial designer. He took many of the photographs that illustrated his wife’s books. The couple also collaborated in designing tableware for the Four Seasons restaurant, which opened in 1959 in the Seagram Building. Mr. Huxtable died in 1989. Ms. Huxtable left no immediate survivors.
Ms. Huxtable was assistant curator of architecture and design at the Museum of Modern Art from 1946 to 1950. She was a Fulbright fellow, studying Italian architecture and design in 1950-52, and a Guggenheim fellow in 1958. She had also begun writing for architectural journals.
In 1958 she addressed a broader audience in The New York Times Magazine with an article criticizing how newspapers covered urban development. “Superblocks are built, the physiognomy and services of the city are changed, without discussion,” Ms. Huxtable wrote. “Architecture is the stepchild of the popular press.”
Five years later she was invited to become a critic by Clifton Daniel, then assistant managing editor of The Times. Though architectural commentary was not new — a line could be traced, largely in magazines, to the 19th century through Aline B. Saarinen, Lewis Mumford, Montgomery Schuyler and others — Ms. Huxtable was being asked to write full time for a general-interest newspaper.
“At first she turned him down, saying daily journalism would disrupt her private life,” Nan Robertson wrote in her 1992 book “The Girls in the Balcony: Women, Men and The New York Times.” “Daniel looked elsewhere, assiduously, but in his own words, ‘I couldn’t find anyone better than she was.’ ”
Ms. Robertson said Ms. Huxtable followed in the tradition of the foreign affairs columnist Anne O’Hare McCormick: “so good they could not be ignored by the men who ran the establishment, and so personally assertive that they would not be ignored.”
For her part Ms. Huxtable said The Times made a “brave gamble” in the “belief that the quality of the built world mattered, at a time when environment was still only a dictionary word.”
Feared by some architects, loathed by some developers and not universally admired by scholars, Ms. Huxtable was nonetheless “a darling of the public,” Robert A. M. Stern, Thomas Mellins and David Fishman wrote in “New York 1960,” published in 1995.
Her exacting standards were well enough known to be a punch line for a New Yorker cartoon by Alan Dunn in 1968. It shows a construction site so raw that only a single steel column has been erected. A hard-hat worker holding a newspaper tells the architect, “Ada Louise Huxtable already doesn’t like it!”
In 1969 the Pulitzer Prizes were expanded to include an award for distinguished criticism or commentary. The first, in 1970, was split by the judges between Ms. Huxtable for criticism and Marquis W. Childs of The St. Louis Post-Dispatch for commentary. She was the second woman, after Mrs. McCormick, 33 years earlier, to win a Pulitzer for The Times. In 1973 she was the second woman ever named to the Times editorial board. (Mrs. McCormick had been the first.) She was succeeded as the daily architecture critic by Paul Goldberger but continued to write about architecture in a Sunday column. She left The Times when she was appointed a MacArthur Fellow in 1981. In her wake, architectural criticism became a staple at big newspapers and grist for subsequent Pulitzer Prizes.
“Before Ada Louise Huxtable, architecture was not a part of the public dialogue,” Mr. Goldberger said in 1996.
Ms. Huxtable was the author of 11 books. “Four Walking Tours of Modern Architecture in New York City” (1961), included a characteristic critique of the Pan Am Building, which was then being built directly behind Grand Central. (It is now the MetLife Building.)
Rather than aesthetics, Ms. Huxtable focused on how the tower would alter the scale of Park Avenue, adding “an extraordinary burden to existing pedestrian and transportation facilities.” She continued, “Its antisocial character directly contradicts the teachings of Walter Gropius, who has collaborated in its design.”
When The Times named her a critic, Ms. Huxtable was working on a six-volume series on New York City architecture. Only the first volume, “Classic New York: Georgian Gentility to Greek Elegance,” was published, in 1964.
In it, she extolled not just lovely Greek Revival temples but also mongrelized houses from the early 1800s. “They rank as ‘street architecture’ rather than as ‘landmarks,’ ” she said. “Their value is contrast, character, visual and emotional change of pace, a sudden sense of intimacy, scale, all evocative qualities of another century.”
Her interest in preservation did not make her an enemy of modernity. In “The Tall Building Artistically Reconsidered: The Search for a Skyscraper Style” (1984), Ms. Huxtable said the glass curtain-wall skyscraper, epitomized by the work of Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, offered “a superb vernacular, probably the handsomest and most useful set of architectural conventions since the Georgian row house.”
What infuriated her were “authentic reproductions” of historical architecture and “surrogate environments” like Colonial Williamsburg and master-planned communities like the Disney Company’s Celebration, Fla. “Private preserves of theme park and supermall increasingly substitute for nature and the public realm, while nostalgia for what never was replaces the genuine urban survival,” she wrote in “The Unreal America: Architecture and Illusion” (1997).
Ms. Huxtable’s last book, in 2008, was “On Architecture: Collected Reflections on a Century of Change.” And her last column, published in The Journal on Dec. 3, 2012, concerned the impending reconstruction of the New York Public Library eliminating the central stacks. Typically enough, it was titled, “Undertaking Its Destruction.”
Ultimately, however, what animated and sustained her were not the mistakes but the triumphs. As she said of New York City in The Times in 1968:
“When it is good, this is a city of fantastic strength, sophistication and beauty. It is like no other city in time or place. Visitors and even natives rarely use the words urban character or environmental style, but that is what they are reacting to with awe in the presence of massed, concentrated, steel, stone, power and life.”
The Time & Life Building was opened in 1959… It topped out at 587 feet and was adorned, on Nov. 24, 1958, with a 35-foot Christmas tree on top. A 9-year-old Freeport, N.Y., boy named David Drivvers, the son of the project’s foreman, hollered, “O.K., Dad, take her away!” as he threw the switch to light the tree, according to The New York Times.
Via the NYT :Men Men City; Time & Life Building
designboom reports on the upcoming event ‘I have seen the future‘, taking place friday, february 17th, 2012 at the MACRO contemporary art museum in rome. Architecture laboratory and magazine cityvision is to announce the opening of a call for proposals that explore the future of new york city in the ‘new york cityvision competition‘.
the ‘coney island’ project, designed for the municipal arts society, shows an imaginative future concept of coney island amusement park in brooklyn, part of a community attempt to counter developer proposals to turn the area into a condominium park.
“Congestion and aesthetic blandness define Penn Station.” Amen to the fine soul (of Michael Kimmelman) who wrote this piece proposing a new Penn Station which every New Yorker has scattered amongst the chaos, dirtiness and clutter. He asks,
What is the value of architecture? It can be measured, culturally, humanely and historically, in the gulf between these two places.
But the only way to fix Penn properly is to move Madison Square Garden.
This map (see below) allows you to reconsider the West Side:
Move Madison Square Garden to the current site of the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center, which Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo imagines moving to Queens, and create a new light-filled Penn Station.
Even more of a pity when you realize the original jewel, the glory of the original Pennsylvania Station, demolished 1963 (see below).
Whoa; midtown and uptown storefronts signs, ye’ neon and font signs of old. This site is a little archival gem.
Very cool blueprints have emerged for the Low Line; Under Delancey Street on Manhattan’s Lower East Side lurks 60,000 square feet of vaulted ceilings and cobbled streets, sitting unappreciated in the dark. The Williamsburg Bridge railway terminal was abandoned in 1948, and has now become the focus of a group of entrepreneurs with an ambitious plan: to pipe natural light underground and create a subterranean park. (source: Sustainable Cities)
Mighty tall amount (via @animal new york)
Post No Bills: Finally, New York Views + Gita Lenz is on our map.
The long neglected work of Gina Lenz black and white photography surfaces with an amazing use of light (some of the photos are quite Hitchcockian with birdseye views, add a touch of Orson Wells mastery of light and sharp angles). Lenz covers the Mad Men of the City (long before the show was chic) and the various opulent window displays of uptown along with those quintessential, unmistakable New York hot summer moments of kids in swim suits, the working class and tenements lingering in the background. (The slideshow is imperative viewing).
Writer Gordon Stettinius laments: Later I learned that Gita had lived in the same apartment in Greenwich Village, at the corner of Carmine Street and 7th Avenue, since 1940. When living alone in a fifth floor walkup became impractical, our mutual friend Timothy Bartling— a chef in New York City fifty years her junior — helped her to move into an assisted-living facility and called to ask my advice about what do with her artwork and her photography equipment.
(Thanks to Josh Wallaert at Places for putting this on my radar)
Friends: Photographer David Leventi gets it. It’s the quiet New York, a bit clean, but still neon and coloured. From dusk til dawn; the city that never sleeps. I like to think of each of his shots as a story; I have about a dozen for both Odeon; maybe six for Schillers and the Empire State Building holds its own….
If you haven’t had time to check in with From Your Desks lately, I recently talked to James and Karla Murray about their vanishing store fronts, graffiti and their pit bull, Tabasco. We also see their workspace and what is up and coming.
Hey, I know blogs stack up like magazines; so many, so little time. But the creative minds involved is too good to miss.
Therefore, I implore you…
Another sleek glass tower rendering, this one, 15 Penn Plaza blocking the clear city view of the Empire State Building. The New York Times article, Christine C. Quinn, the Council speaker, said the project was about jobs and signaled that “New York City is moving forward and moving out of this recession.”
“This project and this zoning vote today are going to help make sure New York City has a new and important 21st-century office tower in Midtown Manhattan,” she said.
Yes, I understand moving into the future, the next phase of Manhattan and the pricey world of real estate. Still yet, it cheapens the New York minute a bit more…for me.