His influence became most apparent in the wake of Sept. 11, when aesthetics should have taken a back seat to rational planning and the city most needed an objective voice at its paper of record. Instead, Muschamp inserted himself into the design process, publishing a "Masters' Plan" -- note the position of the apostrophe -- for ground zero in the Times magazine. His salve for the site of national catastrophe was "visionary architecture" as realized by a handpicked cast of design luminaries. "Fantasies of new buildings are a form of recovery," he wrote in an accompanying essay, unforgivably absent from "Hearts of the City." Such grandiose ideas quickly became an expedient tool for politicians, developers and architects who placed their own interests before the public good.
Muschamp saw no romance in the intricacies of these real-world battles. Instead, he seemed always to be chasing a vague sense of "cosmopolitanism," which he described as "a state of mind, an emotional aptitude that originates in the subconscious and in the architecture of fantasy of which we can never be fully conscious." A child of 1950s suburban Philadelphia, he approached New York as if it were a theater of the imagination. In a telling autobiographical passage, he claimed his audience was himself at age 12, or "a small rat stranded somewhere in the suburbs, seeking to lift his or her horizons above the maze of American consumerism."
In his last years, Muschamp's writing became increasingly baroque and appeared most often in the Times' Sunday style magazines, where his obsession with glamour seemed at least thematically appropriate. His final piece was a rumination on the handbags of Queen Elizabeth II.
Perhaps the greatest irony of Muschamp's writing is that it will become ever more enjoyable over time, as the controversy he valued so highly ebbs, forgotten, into history. Stripped of his bully pulpit, Muschamp is no longer an incendiary figure, and his writing offers only the considerable pleasures of a gifted thinker engaged in his chosen subject, a resource to be valued by those who loved and loathed him.
Lamster is the author of "Master of Shadows," a political biography of Peter Paul Rubens.