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Ada Louise Huxtable

  • Washington is an endless series of mock palaces clearly built for clerks.

    • Ada Louise Huxtable,
    • in The New York Times ()
  • An excellent job with a dubious undertaking, which is like saying it would be great if it wasn't awful.

    • Ada Louise Huxtable,
    • on Marcel Breuer's design for an office tower above Grand Central Terminal, in The New York Times ()
  • Once you provide a super-route, you do not just speed the already stuck cars and trucks on their way, you acquire a lot of new traffic.

    • Ada Louise Huxtable,
    • in The New York Times ()
  • Real estate is the closest thing to the proverbial pot of gold.

  • ... all autonomous agencies and authorities, sooner or later, [turn] into self-perpetuating strongholds of conventional thought and practice.

    • Ada Louise Huxtable,
    • in "Sorry, Wrong Number," The New York Times ()
  • The capital city specializes in ballooning monuments and endless corridors. It uses marble like cotton wool. It is the home of government of, for, and by the people, and of taste for the people — the big, the bland, and the banal.

    • Ada Louise Huxtable,
    • in The New York Times ()
  • [On the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts:] The building is a national tragedy ... a cross between a concrete candy box and a marble sarcophagus in which the art of architecture lies buried.

    • Ada Louise Huxtable,
    • in The New York Times ()
  • Because it is a national landmark, there is only one way to judge the Kennedy Center — against the established standard of progressive and innovative excellence in architectural design that this country is known and admired for internationally. Unfortunately, the Kennedy Center not only does not achieve this standard of innovative excellence; it also did not seek it. The architect opted for something ambiguously called 'timelessness' and produced meaninglessness. It is to the Washington manner born. Too bad, since there is so much of it.

    • Ada Louise Huxtable,
    • in The New York Times ()
  • New York, thy name is irreverence and hyperbole. And grandeur.

    • Ada Louise Huxtable,
    • "A Delightful Walk Downtown," in The New York Times ()
  • Gnomes always draw curtains where there are views.

    • Ada Louise Huxtable,
    • in The New York Times ()
  • No matter what an architect may be at home, he becomes a monumentalist when he comes to Washington.

    • Ada Louise Huxtable,
    • "Mr. Pei Comes to Washington," in The New York Times ()
  • Beauty or beast, the modern skyscraper is a major force with a strong magnetic field. It draws into its physical being all of the factors that propel and characterize modern civilization. The skyscraper is the point where art and the city meet.

  • Every generation tailors history to its taste.

  • The skyscraper and the twentieth century are synonymous; the tall building is the landmark of our age. ... Shaper of cities and fortunes, it is the dream, past and present, acknowledged or unacknowledged, of almost every architect.

  • It is the rare architect who does not hope in his heart to design a great building and for whom the quest is not a quiet, consuming passion.

  • The skyscraper is Olympian or Orwellian, depending on how you look at it.

  • Postmodernism is a freewheeling, unfettered, and unapologetic pursuit of style.

  • [On skyscrapers:] The facades separate the artists from the hacks, the radicals from the conservatives, and the poets from the hired guns.

  • In New York, the impact of these concentrated superskyscrapers on street scale and sunlight, on the city's aniquated support systems, circulation, and infrastructure, on its already tenuous livability, overrides any aesthetic. ... Art becomes worthless in a city brutalized by overdevelopment.

  • ... the search for the ultimate skyscraper goes on. ... At worst, overbuilding will make urban life unbearable. At best, we will go out in a blaze of style.

  • In Paris style is everything. That is traditionally understood. Every street, every structure, every shopgirl has style. The style of Parisian architecture has been proved and refined by at least three centuries of academic dictates and highly developed taste. There are few violations of this taste, and there is exemplary architectural consistency. Paris has defined the aesthetics of a sophisticated urban culture.

  • ... summer is the time when one sheds one's tensions with one's clothes, and the right kind of day is jeweled balm for the battered spirit. A few of those days and you can become drunk with the belief that all's right with the world.

  • Waiting is a large part of living. Great, passive, negative chunks of our time are consumed by waiting, from birth to death. Waiting is a special kind of activity — if activity is the right word for it — because we are held in enforced suspension between people and places, removed from the normal rhythms of our days and lives.

  • Real serious waiting is done in waiting rooms, and what they all have in common is their purpose, or purposelessness, if you will; they are places for doing nothing and they have no life of their own. ... their one constant is what might be called a decorative rigor mortis ...

  • Some people wait constructively; they read or knit. I have watched some truly appalling pieces of needlework take form. Others — I am one of them — abandon all thought and purpose to an uneasy vegetative states.

  • One of the most basic human instincts is the need to decorate. Nothing is exempt — the body, the objects one uses, from intimate to monumental, and all personal and ceremonial space. It is an instinct that responds ... to some deep inner urge that has been variously described as the horror of a vacuum and the need to put one's imprint on at least one small segment of the world.

  • Embellishment is an irresistible and consuming impulse, going back to the beginnings of human history. ... Probably the strongest motivating force is the simplest: the inability of almost everyone to ever leave well enough alone.

  • The art of decoration requires the most sophisticated and self-indulgent skills. Its aim has always been to sate the senses as gloriously as possible. ... ornament is not only a source of sensuous pleasure; it supplies a necessary kind of magic to people and places that lack it. More than just a dread of empty spaces has led to the urge to decorate; it is the fear of empty selves.

  • There are two kinds of people in the world — those who have a horror of a vacuum and those with a horror of the things that fill it. Translated into domestic interiors, this means people who live with, and without, clutter.

  • Clutter in its highest and most organized form is called collecting.

  • Really living without clutter takes an iron will ... This involves eternal watchfulness and that oldest and most relentless of the housewife's occupations, picking up. I have a feeling that picking up will go on long after ways have been found to circumvent death and taxes.

  • Every age cuts and pastes history to suit its own purposes; art always has an ax to grind.

  • Every creative act draws on the past whether it pretends to or not. It draws on what it knows. There's no such thing, really, as a creative act in a vacuum.

    • Ada Louise Huxtable,
    • in Evelyn L. Beilenson and Ann Tenenbaum, eds., Wit & Wisdom of Famous American Women ()
  • Surrogate experience and surrogate environments have become the American way of life. Distinctions are no longer made, or deemed necessary, between the real and the false; the edge usually goes to the latter, as an improved version with defects corrected — accessible and user-friendly ...

  • California ... is the place that sets the trends and establishes the values for the rest of the country; like a slow ooze, California culture spreads eastward across the land.

  • Only a Californian would have observed that it is becoming increasingly difficult to tell the real fake from the fake fake.

  • If the British are a nation of shopkeepers, Americans are a nation of shoppers.

  • Symbol and metaphor are as much a part of the architectural vocabulary as stone and steel.

  • The perennial architectural debate has always been, and will continue to be, about art versus use, visions versus pragmatism, aesthetics versus social responsibility. In the end, these unavoidable conflicts provide architecture's essential and productive tensions; the tragedy is that so little of it rises above the level imposed by compromise, and that this is the only work most of us see and know.

  • Good architecture is still the difficult, conscientious, creative, expressive planning for that elusive synthesis that is a near-contradiction in terms: efficiency and beauty.

  • [Architecture:] this uneasy, difficult combination of structure and art.

    • Ada Louise Huxtable,
    • in Phillip Lopate, "Her New York," The New York Times ()

Ada Louise Huxtable, U.S. architecture critic

(1921 - 2013)