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Feature: From the BWAF Bookshelf: Ada Louise Huxtable

The February 2013 edition of the BWAF Bookshelf is a special edition honoring Ada Louise Huxtable, the celebrated architectural critic who passed away on January 7th, 2013.

Photo credit: Walker Books / Bloomsbury Publishing. 

On Architecture: Collected Reflections on a Century of Change

Ada Louise Huxtable
(Walker & Company, 2008).

On Architecture, the last book published by the late great Ada Louise Huxtable, serves as a compilation of over one hundred essays by the woman who is credited as the first full-time architecture critic.  Huxtable has been widely memorialized as the public champion of architecture in America, who made the esoteric values of modern architecture relatable and relevant to the general population.  Her career as a critic spanned from the mid-1960s to December 2012, during which her work was published in the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, and the New York Review of Books. The essays in this book are organized as a series that speaks to the various movements in architecture from the mid-20th century to the early 21st.  Huxtable’s historical and cultural knowledge inform her rich writing as she traces the changing relationship of architecture to its context during that radical era.

Read straight through or as a random selection, Huxtable’s work displays Huxtable’s singular ability to simultaneously excite and enlighten her reader.  For the reader with a background of architectural knowledge, her writing expresses a  knowledge of history, art and human nature so deep and varied it’s mind-boggling—plus her uncannily shrewd observation and elegant but clear prose.  To the layman, Huxtable’s writing provides a delightful and engaging read, fully conveying the experience of a building without images, while subtly yet clearly informing the reader of the larger meaning of the architecture.  This reader’s favorite section is the concluding chapter, entitled  “Strictly Personal,” featuring pieces that more intimately speak to Huxtable’s own connections to architecture. It reminds us of Huxtable’s empathy for the everyman; that the joy she finds in architecture is something that we can all have.  From front to back, On Architecture is a testament to Huxtable’s incredible virtuosity as well as how architecture could, and should, be viewed by all.

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