Search results for "Paul Goldberger"
I first met Ada Louise Huxtable snickering gently over the latest irony. It was around 1994 at an event at the Museum of Modern Art. She was being rounded up with Paul Goldberger and Herbert Muschamp for an Augustinian age portrait snap of New York Times architecture critics. She was flattered but amused: in her opinion, the paper had done everything to get her off architecture criticism where her frank appraisals of developer greed were causing problems up the line. Later she told me, she wept with joy when getting the MacArthur grant in 1981 because it meant she could quit.
But we didn't really start to communicate until much later when she wrote to compliment me on an acid review in The Architect's Newspaper of an exhibition of Santiago Calatrava's strangely saccharine sculptures at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Her nose for pretentious posturing was sharply honed, but her reporter instincts were even more precise. She wanted to know everything that was going on everywhere--in New York. It wasn't that she had no interest in the wider world of architecture, after all she was on the Pritzker Prize jury for years, but her inclination was to focus on what needed attention in the here and now across all boroughs. There was plenty of concentrated wealth, power plays, civic ambition, and glorious opportunity to mirror all the world.
We met for tea and gossip at her mini-penthouse on Park Avenue, an exquisitely beige aerie blending New York intellectual with Italian rationalism, which is to say books and beige marble. I tried to take mental notes on every historic moment in architecture she recalled in anecdote but soon quit as her own interests were in plumbing current events. And she was up to the minute tracking all the architecture blogs, emailing in the middle of the night with a far flung circle of friends offering the inside dope on this or that latest development.
As we worked together tag teaming stories for the Wall Street Journal, she wrote whatever story mattered most to her, and delegated those she couldn't visit personally to me via her beloved editor, Eric Gibson, who made sure that there was the best and easiest way for her to get to anything she did want to see. As a deadline writer myself, I could only marvel at the depth and breadth of her research; she never fell back on opinion alone. She tracked down every official description, back-room back story, engineer plan and planning department waiver before she even began to think or set finger to keyboard. Criticism without informed reporting annoyed her.
The personalities and doings of architects were not all that interesting to her either, except when they wrote her wounded letters with aggressive undertones. Those provided for hilarious anecdotes. But more and more often she spoke of Garth, her husband who died in 1989, and was the true love and ballast of her life. She recalled with unfaded delight how she came home one day with a Pulitzer Prize, the first ever given for distinguished criticism, and Garth handed her the trash to take out because that was her job.
When Paul Goldberger gave the Vincent Scully Prize lecture in mid-November at the National Building Museum in Washington, D.C., he was pressed, during a question and answer session, for his opinion on a hotly debated local matter: Should the “Height of Buildings Act,” which limits D.C. building heights to 90 feet on residential streets and 130 feet on commercial streets (160 feet along one stretch of Pennsylvania Avenue), be relaxed?
“Probably not a good idea,” Goldberger said, to considerable applause. “There’s something very nice about an American city in which you do not have skyscrapers.”
The Height Act, passed by Congress in 1910, following a public outcry over construction of the 12-story Cairo Hotel, came to be viewed as politically sacrosanct protection against over-development near the National Mall. But that changed last July, when U.S. Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, joined with D.C.’s non-voting congresswoman, Eleanor Holmes Norton, to lead a hearing on the Height Act’s costs.
In early November, Issa and Norton announced a study of the act, by the National Capital Planning Commission (NCPC) and the District of Columbia Office of Planning (OP), to focus on areas of federal government interest, including the topographic bowl of L’Enfant’s plan for the city.
The future of the Height Act has provoked intense argument among urbanists. Some argue that the limits restrict the supply of built space, driving up already-high D.C. rent prices. Others contend that D.C. isn’t as built-out as people assume.
Present for Goldberger’s talk was Harriet Tregoning, D.C. planning director, who will lead the District’s work on the study. Dismayed by Goldberger’s comments, she posted on Twitter: “Why [is the Height Act] framed always as this ‘limit vs. no limit’?” She added, by email: “The alternatives in reconsidering the federal interest in the height of buildings are not just to retain the current limits or eliminate height restrictions. In much of the city, we expect to continue to have a federal limit on building heights, albeit a possibly different or more varied limit.”
In other words, people shouldn’t worry that downtown Washington will become a skyscraper canyon if the Height Act is amended. Tregoning’s boss, Mayor Vincent Gray, has proposed relaxing the limits well outside the monumental core, across the Anacostia River, in Wards 7 and 8.
Because the Height Act is a federal law, changing it would not obviate the need for D.C.’s local government to change zoning to allow taller buildings.
Freedom to build tall could lure developers to the city’s poorer precincts. Others have proposed that building heights be raised along the already prosperous corridors of Connecticut and Wisconsin avenues, which climb hills hundreds of feet above the Mall.
Another complaint lodged against the Height Act is that it cramps the form of the city’s new buildings, giving D.C. architecture its boxy, squat appearance. Architect Shalom Baranes, who has designed countless District buildings, agrees with that assessment. The basic problem, he explains, is that to achieve the maximum density on a commercial site in D.C., architects must locate a building’s exterior walls at the site edges and have them rise vertically without interruption.
Raising the limit as little as 12 or 14 feet, Baranes believes, could allow more variety in massing. “Raising the height limit by one or two stories across the District would not adversely affect the city’s horizontal character,” Baranes wrote in an email, “but would allow buildings to have more variety three-dimensionally.”
On September 11, 2012, no politicians spoke at Ground Zero. That absence contrasted with 2011’s tenth “Tin” Anniversary event, when Michael Arad’s Memorial Plaza opened, with speeches by Presidents Obama and Bush, governors Christie and Cuomo, former mayor Giuliani, and former governors Pataki and DiFrancesco. What came next, however, was considerably less uplifting: the freezing of funds for the 9/11 Memorial Museum, marking the continued dysfunctional normal for the World Trade Center site, which has been rebuilding since the attack in 2001.
Now, after seeing the intelligent documentary 16 Acres, which opens with Bob Dylan’s “Everything is Broken,” we come to understand what is behind the saga of building at Ground Zero.
The film was shown at the Architecture & Design Film Festival, in New York in October. Our main guides through this feckless roundelay are two journalists, Philip Noble, author of Sixteen Acres: Architecture and the Outrageous Struggle for the Future of Ground Zero (2004), and Scott Raab, who has written about the site for Esquire since 2005. With a wicked sense of humor and resigned irony, these keen observers analyze and synthesize the actions, decisions, and motivations of a parade of characters. Interviewees include George Pataki, Larry Silverstein, Danny Libeskind, Roland Betts (Lower Manhattan Development Corporation-LMDC), Janno Lieber (WTC Properties), Kenneth Ringler (Port Authority), David Childs (SOM), Michael Bloomberg, Rosaleen Tallon (family member), Chris Ward (Port Authority), and Michael Arad.
It’s an impressive collection, but obvious omissions include Paul Goldberger, who wrote his own book, Up From Zero: Politics, Architecture, and the Rebuilding of New York, (2005) about the same subject; John C. Whitehead, chairman of the World Trade Center Memorial Foundation and chairman of LMDC; and former New York Governor Eliot Spitzer.
Telling this story in film brings these personalities and their motivations to vivid life and shows their true colors (Pataki as a political opportunist and obstructionist, Silverstein as a sometimes tone-deaf-but-earnest businessman). Then there are the made-for-the-camera, fig-leaf media events like the laying of a cornerstone on July 4, 2004 (an irrelevant act, as cornerstones are not used in modern skyscrapers). That event had been prompted by Pataki’s re-election campaign and the Republican National Convention.
Subsequently, the cornerstone’s siting drew objections from the New York Police Department as too vulnerable, and was moved. As a result, the Freedom Tower scheme had to be scrapped and redesigned. (The irrelevant cornerstone was finally removed and now sits behind the engravers’ headquarters on Long Island. Raab, meanwhile, fantasizes a scene of dumping the rock on Pataki’s front lawn, ringing the doorbell, and racing away as fast as possible.)
Along with fantasy, the film lets us steep ourselves in the site itself, via reminders of the fits and starts of building at Ground Zero, the alphabet soup of stakeholders, the complicated rebuilding efforts. In contrast, 7 World Trade, also designed by David Childs and sited directly across the street, involved only Larry Silverstein and the Port Authority and was completed in 2006.
After the destruction of the twin towers, an immense architecture and planning opportunity arose for the city on what Raab called “perhaps the most valuable 16 acres on the face of the earth…at the center of the cosmos and fair game.” But the ensuing saga can now be viewed only as a series of scrambled opportunities and mixed messages.
These skeins are effectively sorted out in this smart film. Nobel highlights that these yet-to-be-built office buildings were being asked to embody the nation’s collective response—defiant renewal, a symbol of vengeance, and a symbol of healing. But as Paul Goldberger said in his book, “The greatest conflict was not between those who wanted to build and those who wanted the site to remain empty but between those who saw the priority of new construction on the site as primarily commercial and those who saw it as primarily symbolic and cultural.” Rather than void the pre-existing agreement with the leaseholder and rethink the use of the 16 acres, the arrangement remained, thus dictating that the rebuilding utilize the equivalent space for the same designated purposes.
A prime example of the zig-zag trajectory is the competition for the master plan (largely interpreted as the design of buildings themselves), which turned out to be a charade. First, the LMDC, created by Pataki and Giuliani to oversee the rebuilding, chose a design by THINK (Shigeru Ban, Frederic Schwartz, Ken Smith, Rafael Vinoly). Pataki, however, disregarded the agency’s choice and instead selected Libeskind’s proposal.
Yet neither THINK nor Libeskind had the chance to realize their schemes, since leaseholder Larry Silverstein, who was paying for the rebuilding (as well as $10 million per month in rent to the Port Authority whether any buildings existed or not), wanted his own architect, David Childs. A shotgun marriage between Liebeskind and Childs didn’t work. Nobel tells the story of how SOM staff removed the large illuminated model of the Freedom Tower while it was being displayed at yet another Pataki press conference, this one at Federal Hall.
The last Libeskind remnant—a “stick on top,” reaching to the symbolic 1776 feet—was even lopped off as the model exited the hall, never to be seen again.
Michael Arad, who had to make his own compromises on the memorial, said, “It’s easy to think about all of the strife, all the disagreement, to focus on this didn’t go right, that didn’t go right…Actually, in the big picture, something did go right, really right.”
At present, four towers are in various stages of completion on the 16-acre site: 1 World Trade (no longer called the Freedom Tower), by David Childs; 2 World Trade, by Norman Foster; 3, by Richard Rogers; and 4, by Fumihiko Maki. As Philip Nobel said, “It’s an incredibly healthy thing that the city responded to September 11 in classic New York fashion by beating each other up, and grandstanding, and political manipulation. And you can say, ‘Oh, that’s awful,’ or you can say, ‘What a wonderful thing that New York healed this big wound with more New York.’” Let’s hope that it’s worth the wait.
It’s been a dizzying year for readers who follow architecture critic Paul Goldberger. Recently deposed as architecture critic at The New Yorker, he quickly rebounded as a Vanity Fair contributing editor, giving the glossy additional gravitas. Now the National Building Museum has added Goldberger to its illustrious roster of Vincent Scully Prize winners. The award carries a purse of $40,000. “I don’t know that I’ll ever be on another list that includes Prince Charles and Jane Jacobs,” Goldberger told AN.
The first Scully award went to its namesake, Vincent Scully, professor emeritus of art history at Yale. In a statement, Goldberger recalled the influence Scully had on him at Yale: “In a very real way I owe my career to the lessons I learned from him, which is why, for me, there could be no higher honor than to receive the prize that carries his name.”
The Scully jury seems to have taken a shining to many a Yalie. Though awarded fourteen times—on occasion to multiple partner firms like Venturi Scott Brown Associates—sixteen individuals have taken home the prize. Eleven have some had some affiliation with the university. They’ve either gone there, taught there, or, in the case of the Aga Khan, given part of his award money to the institution. It’s a clubby little group with Goldberger himself having served on the Scully jury from 1999–2005.
The speech Goldberger plans to deliver at the museum on November 15 will no doubt stir the kind of applause that famously followed his mentor’s lectures at Yale. The address will hit on themes that many in the profession have been mulling over for the course of this tumultuous year in the architectural press: the state of architecture criticism, the changing role of mainstream media in a digital world, and the rise of citizen journalists.
“It’s a paradox about the great degree of interest in architecture and yet a diminishing amount of outlets,” Goldberger said, wondering out loud whether the buzz in social media is the equivalent of what is being lost in the general media. He added that it’s a complex issue when a mass of voices drown out the opinion of the specialist. “There is a profound value to expert guidance,” he said.
The very heart of his career is based on sharing architecture with a mass audience in an unpretentious manner, and Goldberger, an avid Tweeter, said he wouldn’t consider reversing course. “My whole life has been trying to communicate to a broader general audience—that’s the most important thing of all to me,” he said. “But I feel that things have gone too far—crowdsourcing doesn’t always bring you where you want to be.”
He paraphrased literary critic Daniel Mendelsohn’s belief that the critic’s first allegiance is to his subject and not his readers. “Democracy is a great thing but it doesn’t always lead to the best architectural decisions,” he said. “Committees can make things happen, but they can’t create works of art.”
An architect wrote to me recently in near anguish that architecture criticism is in crisis. The case seems pretty compelling:
In December, the website Slate rubbed out its architecture critic post filled by Witold Rybczynski. In March, The New Yorker gave the heave-ho to The Sky Line column established in 1931 by Lewis Mumford and for the past almost 15 years written by Paul Goldberger. And at the New York Times new architecture critic Michael Kimmelman, ten months on the job, rarely writes about individual buildings.. Anyone can write architecture criticism, says Alexandra Lange in her new book Writing About Architecture (reviewed for AN by Goldberger), but that may be just another way of saying that no one is currently doing so with real authority.
Is the media giving architecture the shaft? It certainly felt like it when former New York Times managing editor Bill Keller blogged with imperious condescension about architecture as “a genre that can be, at its worst, precious and narrow” where buildings are treated “as if they were gowns on the red carpet.” A whiff of hostility hovers as well over the controversy surrounding Frank Gehry's Eisenhower memorial design which should have been making slow progress from concept through revision towards realization but has been stopped in its tracks by compulsive and eagerly covered nit-picking with no sense of trust that Gehry has long since proved his abilities.
Recently Goldberger and I chatted about the media’s versus the public’s interest in architecture. Where the former seems soured on the subject, the latter seems more engaged than ever by the look of crowded community board meetings (often for NIMBY’s sake, sure, but true civic interest is also on abundant display), the proliferation of design-themed blogs and ample coverage on major sites such as the Huffington Post, and even Bjarke Ingels’s clips from the TED conferences that attract an average of half a million online viewers. The audience seems to be there, even if it is moving away from thoughtful consideration in the traditional sense and more in the direction of play-by-play commentary.
Still Goldberger and I have both had our share of experiences where editors—those easily distracted gatekeepers to readers—dismissed architecture coverage as so much insider baseball or acted suspicious of it as an extension of someone's marketing plan. Architects have not helped with over-complicated narratives that too often read like parodies of complexity rather than accurate representations of all the intricate forces that comprise building.
Perhaps it’s time to give formal criticism a rest. Remember that the last time architecture was a popular subject matter for public intellectuals was during the reign of postmodernism when Tom Wolfe among many others had a heyday reducing a moment of intense intellectual foment into a gong show.
Today again, architecture is at a moment of tremendous transformation when to be successful buildings must address a wider array of imperatives—social, financial, technical, sustainable, contextual—than ever. Patronage displays and destination building are a thing of the past. Even China emerged rather quickly from its fever dream of building to impress the world, while the latest Olympics in both London and Rio are stalwartly avoiding show-off structures in favor of lasting infrastructure.
Architecture criticism may no longer have important friends or fans in the general media. What better time for architecture commentary to find a new voice—not one that engages strictly with any one aspect, whether of form or social responsibility, but one that takes on the entire gamut. Instead of bemoaning a crisis in criticism, architecture writers and also educators could start down that new path by focusing on plain writing making sure that it is as compelling, comprehensive, and clear as it can be. And for that there is always an urgent need for, as Mumford understood (even as he carped short-sightedly about the disappointments of Rockefeller Center), architecture remains an “index of civilization” well worth the widest possible attention.