“We were the children of white flight, the first generation to grow up in postwar American suburbs. By the time the ’60s rolled around, many of us, the gay ones especially, were eager to make a U-turn and fly back the other way. Whether or not the city was obsolete, we couldn’t imagine our personal futures in any other form. The street and the skyline signified to us what the lawn and the highway signified to our parents: a place to breathe free.”
Herbert Muschamp, January 8, 2006, “The Secret History of 2 Columbus Circle” in the NYT
Herbert Muschamp, architectural critic for the New York Times from 1992 to 2004 died this week in Manhattan at the age of 59.
When I read Muschamp’s critiques, I never quite knew what he would say or where he would go. One thing I did know – they would be interesting, usually quirky and always insightful. He connected the social and political currents of the day to the architecture of that time and often in a way that startled and amused readers.
Take for instance his 2006 essay on 2 Columbus Circle, where he said, “No other building more fully embodied the emerging value of queerness in the New York of its day.” How could that line not get my attention and make me want to read all 5,900 words he wrote about Edward Durrell Stone’s controversial Columbus Circle building?
Muschamp was from a generation of gay men that migrated to New York in the 1960s. They -- and I’m quite sure there were also good numbers of LBT people too – would build zones of freedom in New York and every big city across the country. And once freer than they could ever be in the small towns and suburbs they came from would build communities and families and eventually acquire political power.
Now New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Chicago, DC, Atlanta and so many other big cities are our community’s political engines, projecting our voices for equality and freedom across our states and the country and sooner or later back to those small towns or suburbs so many of us came from.
So here’s to Herbert Muschamp. You realized your potential and you lived as free as you could live during the time that was given you. You were part of our community’s great awakening. Let’s hope we can all do just as well.