Goldberger ’72 talks architecture

Paul Goldberger ’72 speaks at a fundraiser  for the New Haven Free Public Library at Union League Café Wednesday.
Paul Goldberger ’72 speaks at a fundraiser for the New Haven Free Public Library at Union League Café Wednesday. Photo by Colin Sutherland.

Paul Goldberger ’72, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and architecture critic for The New Yorker, spoke to an audience of 80 people Wednesday about his new book, “Why Architecture Matters,” — without ever explaining why architecture matters.

The event, a $150-per-ticket fundraiser benefitting the New Haven Free Public Library , was moderated by School of Architecture Dean Robert A.M. Stern ARC ’65.

Goldberger’s book was published last month as a part of the “Why X Matters” series of the Yale University Press. Goldberger had no choice in naming his book because of the title format of the book series.

“The title is misleading,” Stern said. “It should be ‘How You Feel About Architecture.’ ”

Goldberger said his book is a non-technical guide to help the general public better appreciate architecture. He said the book grew out of an old, unfinished project he had started at the request of Random House to write a book on how to look at architecture.

“The challenge was to take all the things I took for granted and explain them — how to analyze and explain what is intuitive,” Goldberger said in an interview.

New Haven and Yale are main actors in his book. Goldberger explained that when he came to Yale, he was excited about the modern architecture on campus because back in the 1960s and 1970s, the school was known for its radical architecture. This was the era of Louis Kahn’s Yale Center for British Art, Paul Rudolph’s Art and Architecture Building, Gordon Bunshaft’s Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library and Eero Saarinen’s Morse and Ezra Stiles Colleges. (Goldberger himself was in Stiles.) But contrary to the prevailing preferences of architecture students of the day, Goldberger said he found himself falling in love with the collegiate Gothic colleges.

“[The Gothic colleges were] what an architecture student wasn’t supposed to like at the time,” he said. “But they are not cheesy, but beautiful, subtle and full of all kinds of lessons.”

Though Stern introduced Goldberger and laughed at his jokes, he did not participate much in the conversation. Goldberger said he was influenced as a student by Stern and retired art history professor Vincent Scully ’40 GRD ’49.

Goldberger repeatedly drew links between architecture, his book and New Haven — a city that was planned from its inception. He said New Haven has made great progress since his student days, citing the developments on Chapel Street, Broadway and Whitney Avenue.

University Planner Laura Cruickshank said she enjoyed listening to Goldberger’s comments on Yale and New Haven.

“When I begin a presentation, I always start with an aerial photograph of the New Haven Green that shows that you cannot define where Yale stops and the city begins,” Cruickshank said.

Goldberger autographed copies of his book at the end of the luncheon. He also gave a talk on public architecture Wednesday at the New Haven Free Public Library and spoke at a Master’s Tea in Davenport College.

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