Paul Goldberger is the architecture critic for The New Yorker magazine, where he has written his "Sky Line" column since 1997. He also holds the Joseph Urban Chair in Design and Architecture at
The New School in New York City. He was formerly Dean of the Parsons
school of design, a division of The New School. He is the author of a number of books, including, "Why Architecture Matters" and "Up From Zero: Politics, Architecture and the Rebuilding of New York." In 1984, while working as architecture critic at the New York Times, he received the Pulitzer Prize for Distinguished Criticism.
Question: Has technology made architects less necessary than they used to be?
Paul Goldberger: I think architects are more necessary
than ever because technology can sometimes create the illusion that a
building can be created without a creative hand, without a creative idea
behind it. And that’s not true at all. Where technology has helped,
so far, is in the building of extraordinary shapes that architects can
imagine. So, it was once possible to imagine strange and complicated
shapes that were almost impossible to build. Today, technology allows
us to build almost anything. But the computer can’t create those
things. It can’t make them up. An architect has to make them up. and
in fact, if we think about Frank Gehry again, he is in many ways a
traditional architect. I mean, he designs on paper and with models.
And then the computer takes over only later.
Now there's a
younger generation of architects who are using the computer more as a
design tool and they’re comfortable with letting the computer tell them
what to do a little bit more, rather than merely how to make something
their mind has invented. I don’t know where that's going to take us... I
don’t think of myself as old, but I think I’m old enough to not sort of
naturally sort of feel that that’s the way to do it. But I’m also, I
hope smart enough not to rush to judgment on it. So, let's see where
using the computer as an actual design tool as opposed to an engineering
and construction tool, or as a facilitation tool, where all that takes
us. I don’t know yet. But I do believe that in the same way that
computers can be programmed to write music, to paint pictures, to write
literature, I don’t know that there will be a time they will equal the
creative genius of a human mind. But they certainly can facilitate that
genius. And that we’re seeing already.
I think we can get
sort of tired of crazy shapes all the time, and we get numb to them.
And if every – as Robert Venturi and Denise Scott Brown wrote many, many
years ago, you know "If every building is extraordinary, well then
they’re really all ordinary." So, you know, if the new ordinary just
becomes this kind of frantic, frenetic, complicated form, I don’t know
that we’ve achieved much.
The beauty and the drama in any kind
of urban environment, any kind of urban setting is in the way in which
different things play off against each other. I mean, if you had a
building like Frank Gehry’s Walt Disney Hall in Los Angeles next door to
another Gehry building next door to another, all of the same thing—or
equally powerful buildings by other architects—I don’t know that you’d
have a particularly appealing urban environment. But in the same way
that a great cathedral in a European city plays off against the everyday
buildings that are there and becomes a kind of punctuation mark, if you
will, in the cityscape, that’s what we should be doing.
technology going to create a temptation to do too much all the time? It
may, but as I said I think our growing awareness of urbanism, of the
idea of the city—which I think is better understood culturally today
than it was 20 years ago—I think that sort of helps balance that off and
we’re much more aware that the background building can be one of the
things that make the city nice to be in. When you think about Paris,
you know, there are great monuments, but then there’s the kind of the
ordinary everyday Parisian building that creates the urban fabric. And
that’s one of the reasons it works so well is because the great
monuments play off in a really beautiful sort of harmonic balance
against the background fabric.
Recorded on June 22, 2010
Interviewed by David Hirschman