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Who's in the Video
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[…]

Technology can sometimes create the illusion that a building can be created without a creative hand, or without a creative idea behind it. That’s not true at all, says the critic.

Question: Has technology made architects less necessary than they used to be?

Paul Goldberger: I think architects are more necessary rnthan ever because technology can sometimes create the illusion that a rnbuilding can be created without a creative hand, without a creative idearn behind it.  And that’s not true at all.  Where technology has helped, rnso far, is in the building of extraordinary shapes that architects can rnimagine.  So, it was once possible to imagine strange and complicated rnshapes that were almost impossible to build.  Today, technology allows rnus to build almost anything.  But the computer can’t create those rnthings. It can’t make them up.  An architect has to make them up.  and rnin fact, if we think about Frank Gehry again, he is in many ways a rntraditional architect.  I mean, he designs on paper and with models.  rnAnd then the computer takes over only later. 

Now there's a rnyounger generation of architects who are using the computer more as a rndesign tool and they’re comfortable with letting the computer tell them rnwhat to do a little bit more, rather than merely how to make something rntheir mind has invented.  I don’t know where that's going to take us... Irn don’t think of myself as old, but I think I’m old enough to not sort ofrn naturally sort of feel that that’s the way to do it. But I’m also, I rnhope smart enough not to rush to judgment on it.  So, let's see where rnusing the computer as an actual design tool as opposed to an engineeringrn and construction tool, or as a facilitation tool, where all that takes rnus.  I don’t know yet.  But I do believe that in the same way that rncomputers can be programmed to write music, to paint pictures, to write rnliterature, I don’t know that there will be a time they will equal the rncreative genius of a human mind.  But they certainly can facilitate thatrn genius.  And that we’re seeing already. 

I think we can get rnsort of tired of crazy shapes all the time, and we get numb to them.  rnAnd if every – as Robert Venturi and Denise Scott Brown wrote many, manyrn years ago, you know "If every building is extraordinary, well then rnthey’re really all ordinary."  So, you know, if the new ordinary just rnbecomes this kind of frantic, frenetic, complicated form, I don’t know rnthat we’ve achieved much. 

The beauty and the drama in any kind rnof urban environment, any kind of urban setting is in the way in which rndifferent things play off against each other.  I mean, if you had a rnbuilding like Frank Gehry’s Walt Disney Hall in Los Angeles next door torn another Gehry building next door to another, all of the same thing—or rnequally powerful buildings by other architects—I don’t know that you’d rnhave a particularly appealing urban environment.  But in the same way rnthat a great cathedral in a European city plays off against the everydayrn buildings that are there and becomes a kind of punctuation mark, if yourn will, in the cityscape, that’s what we should be doing. 

Is rntechnology going to create a temptation to do too much all the time?  Itrn may, but as I said I think our growing awareness of urbanism, of the rnidea of the city—which I think is better understood culturally today rnthan it was 20 years ago—I think that sort of helps balance that off andrn we’re much more aware that the background building can be one of the rnthings that make the city nice to be in.  When you think about Paris, rnyou know, there are great monuments, but then there’s the kind of the rnordinary everyday Parisian building that creates the urban fabric.  And rnthat’s one of the reasons it works so well is because the great rnmonuments play off in a really beautiful sort of harmonic balance rnagainst the background fabric.

Recorded on June 22, 2010
Interviewed by David Hirschman