“Dallas hasn’t got enough old buildings that any of them are expendable,” said Ada Louise Huxtable in 1976, during a visit to Dallas-Fort Worth.
Huxtable, a towering figure in architecture criticism, died earlier this month at the age of 91 after a long career both praising and skewering the buildings that make up our urban landscapes.
She was the first in a generation of post-World War II architecture writers at daily newspapers who increasingly engaged the public in architectural discussions, breaking the barrier between architects, planners and the people who had to live with their designs.
Huxtable began her career at the New York Times in 1963 and wrote for the paper until 1981; she began writing for the Wall Street Journal in 1997.
She was a New Yorker and focused most of her writing on that city, berating planners and preservationists for allowing the demolition of Penn Station in 1963 and praising Morphosis’s new Cooper Union Building in 2009. In her last piece, she torpedoed the controversial plans to gut the iconic New York Public Library, removing the book stacks and creating a 21st century mediatheque in its place.
Huxtable established a tradition of engaged civic discourse about architecture. Her popular success as a critic paved the way for the Dallas Morning News to hire a permanent architecture writer in David Dillon, who wrote for the paper between 1981 and 2006. Huxtable never minced words and she inspired others to ask tough questions about what we build, why we build it and who we build it for.
We take a look back at the DFW of 1976 through Huxtable's eyes. Remember, in 1976, there was no Arts District, and Reunion Tower was just being built.
All quotes come from Huxtable’s conversation with Janet Kutner, “A Critic’s Impressions of Area Architecture,” Dallas Morning News, November 14, 1976.
Reunion District Downtown (under construction in 1976)
“Dallas is being torn apart," Huxtable said. "Whatever it does, it’s following the accepted developer’s pattern. The developer is taking advantage of freeway living to make those new nodes or these new centers just outside downtown.
"They draw off a lot of the life of downtown, and as long as that continues there’s not much chance for revitalizing downtown Dallas.”
Fort Worth Water Garden (opened in 1974)
“It was a great surprise to me that the gardens were so stunning once I was inside," Huxtable said. "They are one of the best urban environments in the world.”
Campbell Centre (opened beginning in 1972)
“These are totally expendable as buildings," Huxtable said. "And if they cast a blinding glow at certain times of the day, they are also a crime against the environment.”
“I loved Fair Park," Huxtable said. "I see Fair Park as a quite fabulous concentration of 1936 Art Deco, Art Moderne buildings. Unfortunately, some are mutilated at this point. I don’t know how people feel about them locally, but I suspect they are somewhat unappreciated.”
(Editor's note: For more info on the architecture of Fair Park, check out the October piece by Dr. Holliday and fellow UT Arlington professor Douglas Klahr.)
Kimbell Art Museum (opened in 1972)
“The Kimbell Museum is even more beautiful than I expected, and I was prepared for something very handsome," Huxtable said. "The Kimbell is a perfect example of the setting serving the art and the two reinforcing each other for a profound cultural enrichment that is extremely moving.”
Huxtable wrote many books as well as articles. If you’re looking for a longer read, try Kicked a Building Lately?, a collection of her essays, or The Unreal America: Architecture and Illusion, a passionate critique of the commercialization of public space in America.