“Green” architecture has become so central to the making of architecture that it’s not longer a big deal.
Question: How have "green" concepts influenced architecture?
Paul Goldberger: I think the most important thing to say about green architecture right now is that it’s becoming less and less of a big deal, not because we’re not doing it, but because we are doing it. In other words, I’m saying that to make the point that we’re not marginalizing it; it’s becoming so central to the making of architecture that I don’t even know that we have to talk about it so much. And one of the reasons is that we’ve learned how to make traditional—by traditional I don’t mean historical, I just mean regular buildings—in a much more energy-efficient way than we used to. So the question about how will green architecture change the appearance of buildings may end up being answered by saying, "Not very much." But not because green architecture isn’t happening, it’s because we’ve learned to integrate it so well that it doesn’t change the appearance as much as we thought.
I mean, an example might be glass. Years and years ago, when the first serious attempts were made to make buildings more energy-efficient, people used to say, "Well oh, that’s the end of glass buildings because you know, nothing’s worse than glass and that’s that. And we’re going to see lots of masonry buildings again, or lots of this or lots of that." In fact, we now have more glass buildings than ever. And that’s because glass itself has changed and manufacturers have learned how to make glass into what’s almost a different material in that it’s much more energy-efficient than it was before. It has... it performs in a way that is much closer to an opaque material, to stone or something like that. Not literally the same, but closer than it used to be. And so we're seeing plenty of glass buildings after all, but they’re much more energy-responsive, they’re much more green than a generation ago.
So, in a way, it’s kind of like the situation with cars. You know, it’s all well and good to talk about hybrids—and hybrids have been an incredibly positive addition to the roads, let's say. But what's less talked about is how much more efficient conventional engines have become. So, you know, you can buy a hybrid, but you can also buy a BMW, or an Audi that in fact gets almost as good mileage through a much more efficient conventional engine. And we’re seeing that in architecture too. An awful lot of buildings that are just, may look like an older kind of building, but I fact are much more efficient. They don’t necessarily have to be totally different, the way the hybrid is totally different.
And of course, even within the realm of the hybrid, you know, there’s the Prius, which looks different, or then there’s a hybrid engine inside a Toyota Camry that looks the same. So, in architecture too, there's an analogy. The building can express how green it is if the architect and the client wanted to, or it can not express that but still be just a green as the other one.
Question: How have Jane Jacobs' ideas about urbanism affected the way buildings are built?
Paul Goldberger: Jane Jacobs and her ideas about the nature of the city and about the city being an organic living thing, and a thing capable of constant regeneration and the street being so important. Those have almost become the common wisdom today. They’re not considered radical. Quite the contrary, they're considered very mainstream, almost, now. But as with everything, in every silver lining there is a cloud, you could say. You know, there’s a down side to even this very good thing. And that’s that when someone’s ideas become mainstream, there’s always the tendency of people who are not so responsible to exploit them. So we do see real estate developers today talking about, you know, how much their projects enhance street life and presenting 70-story condos as additions to the cityscape, which as the kind the kind of things that Jane Jacobs would have liked, when in fact it’s quite the opposite. They’re not. I thought the ultimate of that was a few years ago when the Jets' project to do a stadium on the west side of Manhattan was being pushed. And one of the arguments made for the design was that it would have, tucked into the bottom, lots of little shops and restaurants and things like that so that when there was not a football game, it would "enliven" the cityscape.
Well, the notion of using Jane Jacobs ideas about enlivening the streetscape to justify an 80,000-seat football stadium in the middle of Manhattan totally turned her notions on their head. And I do think we’re seeing a certain amount of that now. Or things like urban festival marketplaces, Faneuil Hall in Boston and all the progeny of that is a kind of commercial corruption of a lot of what Jane Jacobs was arguing for. But is the glass half empty or is the glass half full? You know, is it... if you compare a festival marketplace kind of urban thing to a real city street with all the energy and intensity and heterogeneity of a true city street, it doesn’t come off so well. If you compare it, however, to a suburban mall, it looks pretty good. So, you know, is the glass half empty or is the glass half full? It’s almost a question of what your temperament is, how you choose to read that. I’d rather read it as a sign that there is a kind of urban impulse in this society, which I think is good even if that urban impulse sometimes plays out in crass commercial ways.
Recorded on June 22, 2010
Interviewed by David Hirschman