Question: What have been some of the main effects of the recession on architecture?
Well I think the recession is doing two things. First, it cuts the
volume of building hugely. You know, the first thing you give up in bad
times is building a new building. I mean, you've got to eat, you’ve got
to do certain other essential things, but building a building for most
people, for most businesses, most institutions, is an optional thing.
And so when times are tough, you give it up. It's both optional and
unbelievably expensive. So therefore, it’s the first thing to go.
That’s the bad effect, obviously, of the recession.
effect, though, is that it can kind of can cleanse a lot of the crap out
of the system. I mean, we’ve just come through a period of enormous
and, in some ways excessive, prosperity. A lot of what we’ve built has
been excessive and more than a little vulgar. So if the recession puts
an end to the McMansion, it will have been a social good in some way
actually. That’s not to—I don’t mean to be flippant about it, obviously
there is more social ill to a recession than social good, but somewhere
within all the awful stuff, there’ll be a modest silver lining and that
might be that we will begin to understand that, you know, an
upper-middle class prosperous family of four does not require 15,000
square feet of living space as a bare minimum, which is the way a lot of
the country's been operating in the age of the McMansion.
Question: Has the recession affected certain types of architecture disproportionately?
Paul Goldberger: The recession’s affected architecture at
all levels, I think, because there’s not much money to build.
Remember, commercial building, nobody builds with their own money. It’s
all money that gets lent by financial institutions. And they’re not
doing it right now, in this climate. So buildings at all levels have
been affected. The government is not building much, commercial
developers are not building much. About the only amount of building you
do see is some institutional building; academic institutions, cultural
institutions, perhaps that had been planning projects for a long time,
have raised a lot of the money they need through private philanthropy
and are also figuring that, with construction way down this is actually a
good time because they can build it at a cheaper price then they might
if things come back in a couple of years. So they’re going ahead with a
certain number of projects, but an awful lot of stuff is not
happening—in that category as well as other categories. So, it’s way
down at all levels.
We’re coming out of this period when
architecture’s been incredibly ambitious and sometimes too ambitious
even. Although far be it from me as an architecture critic to say
there’s such a thing as architecture being too ambitious, but in fact,
sometimes it has been. It’s tried to hard; it’s sort of acted as if it
was going to solve all the world’s ills by a bunch of fancy buildings.
any case, I think we are pulling back on a lot of that stuff and there,
there is both a good and a bad side also. The good side is sometimes
things are being done just in a more simple, clear, basic way without a
lot of unnecessary frills and fuss. You know, it kind of... maybe we’ll
get back to a respect for a kind of modernist purity sometimes. And
that's all to the good.
On the other hand, if things are just
done more cheaply with crappy, junky materials, that’s not to the good.
And I think we’re seeing some of both of those things right now.
Recorded on June 22, 2010
Interviewed by David Hirschman