Between its clean-cut geometry and aura of cutting-edge technology, a certain subset of modern architecture screams an aesthetic that can be best classified as “super villain” — gloriously inefficient, substituting functionality and cost-effectiveness for maniacal laugh-inducing technological coolness. To that effect, throughout Rudolph Hall’s new “Archaeology of the Digital” exhibit, Chuck Hoberman’s motorized wire spheres expand to improbably large proportions and plexiglass domes magically self-assemble — if Lex Luthor were building a beach house, he would probably peruse this exhibit for inspiration.
Organized by the Canadian Centre for Architecture, “Archaeology of the Digital” explores how digital technology has expanded and influenced modern architecture. It focuses on four notable examples: Frank Gehry’s Lewis Residence, Peter Eisenman’s unconstructed Biozentrum, Chuck Hoberman’s Expanding Sphere and Shoei Yoh’s roof structures for Odawara and Galaxy Toyama Gymnasiums. Each architect used digital ideas to craft their buildings, from the abstract DNA structure that inspired Eisenman’s Biozentrum to the difficult geometric calculations needed to construct Hoberman’s famous expanding spheres. Blueprints and models of each building form the center of the exhibit, along with interviews with the architects. Several 3-D computer models are also on display for the public to rotate and manipulate.
Though logical, the exhibit’s presentation was fairly difficult to navigate. “Archaeology” is meant to lead the visitor through each major work, but this isn’t immediately apparent to viewers who wish to quickly peruse the models — several visitors appeared to be proceeding through the exhibit backward, occasionally skipping a sequence. Additionally, much of what’s featured is somewhat technical — many blueprints of the same building, for example, appear in succession and differ only slightly. Neither of these effects would trouble a visitor with sufficient time to digest the display, but a quick 20-minute visit won’t give much insight.
That said, the arrangement of models and blueprints excellently demonstrates the relationship between architect and technology. As computers adopted a system of modeling consisting of points connected by lines, architectural modeling followed suit, with metal wire becoming a common form of demonstrating concepts. In addition to influencing traditional architecture, computer modeling also allowed new breakthroughs, and the variation among the styles displayed reinforces this notion. Whereas each Gothic building more or less resembles every other Gothic building, each project aided by technology is completely novel — one may take the form of a biological macromolecule, another a fish and yet another an indescribably curvy prism.
The exhibit manages to drive home the idea that technology is rapidly infiltrating every aspect of our culture — even art. Technology does not necessarily reduce formerly artisanal activities into cold, rapid and linear pursuits, but rather expands the artist’s creative reach. I stopped to meditate on Frank Gehry’s Lewis Residence for more time than I grant most pieces of art in similar non-architectural exhibits. The building, made up of an assortment of geometric objects, seems to defy physics even as it holds together. “The brain that transforms [thought] into art is needed to get beyond the recognizable language of the computer program,” Gehry explained in a quote displayed next to his work.
The space also makes a compelling case for bridging the “intellectual curiosity gap between history/theory and design” — as “Archaeology” argues at the beginning of the exhibit. As scholars look back on the development of architecture in our time and in the recent past, they will need to have access to the digital record of an architect’s progress — the custom programs, digital models and more. Despite this, almost no institutions maintain databases of these digital tools, failing to account for data’s being as important as the physical models and drawings previous designers left behind. Through its interactive computer models and documentation of each architect’s creative process, “Archaeology of the Digital” demonstrates the importance of archiving the entirety of a building’s construction, digital or not.
Victor Hugo wrote in “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” that architecture is a product of each generation’s evolving culture — “the residue of successive evaporations of human society.” “Archaeology of the Digital” is a unique examination of the overlap of art and technology. Certainly this mixture, with its unprecedented creative freedom, will characterize the residue modern architecture leaves behind.
Peter Salovey and John DeStefano Jr. — the freshly minted president of Yale and the longtime mayor of New Haven on the verge of retirement — joined a crowd of over 100 University administrators, professors, students and city residents Monday evening to celebrate the newest home erected through Yale’s Vlock Building Project.
Salovey and DeStefano joined School of Architecture Dean Robert A.M. Stern in unveiling the home on 116 Greenwood Street that first-year architecture students constructed over the summer as part of the Vlock Program. The decades-old program — named in 2008 for James Vlock, a longtime affiliate of the Yale School of Architecture — allows students to design and build an environmentally sustainable and cost-efficient house in an economically disadvantaged neighborhood in New Haven. The home is then donated to Neighborhood Housing Services, a not-for-profit housing developer that sells it to a low-income buyer. In his remarks during the event, Salovey called the program a “great example of the Yale-New Haven partnership.”
The building was originally to be erected in New Haven’s Newhallville neighborhood, but that project was stalled in June when Paul Brouard ARC ’61, an architecture professor overseeing the construction process, was assaulted on the construction site, forcing the students to relocate to the Greenwood site in the West River neighborhood. Brouard recovered rapidly, and the Newhallville home is still under construction. After Yale students left the site, the University and the city agreed to foot the bill as a private firm stepped in to complete the students’ design.
“This is about learning about architecture’s relationship to the world,” Stern told the crowd that gathered in front of the West River home, adding that he considers the Vlock program a “lesson in community building.”
Eighteen students stayed in New Haven over the summer to complete the Greenwood Street house, working overtime to finish by the end of September. Brouard said he was “delighted” to see the finished building, adding that he thinks this year’s house is “the best yet” in the program’s 45-year history.
Ben Smith ARC ’15, one of the designers, said compatibility with the surrounding neighborhood was one of the guiding principles for the design. He said the students set out to design for a “prototypical lot,” creating a building that could fit into any sliver lot in the city. With a width of only 17 feet, the site forced the students to think about how to “open up the space available,” Smith said.
Three stories high, the house boasts tall ceilings, wide windows and skylights that flood the central area with light. White paint covers the home’s cedar exterior and hardwood bamboo wood lines the floors. Smith said students call the house “Hearth,” a name they identify with an “open living environment” conducive to gathering and conversation.
Vlock, who attended Monday’s open house, said he first became involved in the project because he wanted to help architecture students develop “technical expertise” in addition to their academic work. He is committed to building practices that also benefit the surrounding community, he said, and appreciates that his namesake program can be a boon to New Haven’s struggling neighborhoods.
Salovey said that despite his short tenure as president, he is “no stranger to the project,” having visited past construction sites as provost and a resident of New Haven.
DeStefano described the Vlock Project as a “great partnership” between Yale and New Haven and praised this year’s house for its seamless integration into the neighborhood.
Alissa Chastain ARC ’15, one of the designers, said the project gives architecture students their “first taste of the real world,” as it gives them the opportunity to design and build a house as professionals. She said the project also taught her the importance of making the most of available materials, many of which were donated.
By admission of an introductory plaque at “Roman Sketches,” the rough impressions inside a sketchbook are not meant for the public eye. Raw material and impressionistic input, they are more Snapchat than Ansel Adams, but there’s something alluring about sketches in their revealing, almost crude simplicity.
Alexander Purves’ ’58 ARC ’65 sketches of Rome are no exception. Purves, professor emeritus at the School of Architecture, has spent four weeks in Rome each of the last 12 summers leading an intensive drawing course for architecture graduate students. Over those months, he’s amassed 12 individual sketchbooks filled with his jotted interpretations of the city, a small selection of which have been chosen for display in an exhibit running until June at the Whitney Humanities Center. From delicate watercolors to spectral outlines of the Piazza Popolo, each work offers a moment from Purves’ tours of the city.
Similar to the paradox of displaying an artist’s private sketches is that of recreating one of the world’s great cities in a series of miniature line drawings. Black and white impressions wouldn’t seem adequate to represent Rome’s splendor, yet Purves’ trained eye makes virtue of constraint. Using almost exclusively ballpoint pen, a testament to his self-professed “obsession” with line drawing, Purves’ shading consists of scribbles varying in intensity from light to apocalyptic. Yet his drawings of St. Peter’s Basilica lose nothing of its looming grandeur, and in fact the minimalism of his medium reduces the ornate building to its imposing silhouette, a stark and almost imperial shape.
It takes Purves few lines to capture a building. He seems to forsake detail for overall form, and although this is the nature of a sketch, those of more impressive buildings tend even further from intricacy. “If you want to know a building, you should draw it,” he says, and his sketches are certainly not those of an awed tourist but of a practiced eye. Many emphasize architectural features of a structure, such as a series looking up at the tower of St. Ivo or a view inside St. Peter’s of the Basilica’s towering arches. Still, other sketches actually have measurements and markings on them, while others attempt to translate a building into a blueprint. It’s worth remembering that these drawings were not for pleasure, but for business — Purves sketched them while leading a group of students, some of whom appear in the sketches — and there is certainly a functional aspect to the work, much of which examines geometric shapes both intricate and simple within the architecture.
But there is a fleeting quality to some of the work as well, as if seen from a moving car’s window or noticed briefly in passing. Two views of the tower at St. Ivo retain that same transient feel even though one is a watercolor and another a line drawing; both depict the rush of cars and pedestrians surrounding the 16th century church, and Purves’ familiarity with the locale seems obvious. Yet neither the routine of the city nor the rapidity of his pencil strokes can fully obscure the simple elegance of the church, which Purves paints in the glow of early evening.
In other pictures, though, Purves’ artistic side dominates. Some are details of columns or fine carvings on medieval buildings such as Santa Costanza, a fourth century church. These don’t have the brevity of the broader, architectural works, but instead demonstrate Purves’ sleight of hand with his preferred ballpoint. Despite or even because of this, they lack the immediacy of the Basilica of the Piazza Sant’Ignazio, which seem to impress upon us exactly what Purves saw as he sketched.
Displaying sketches like these creates an interesting artistic conundrum. Many of Rome’s buildings are art in themselves, designed to instill viewers and patrons with a sense of awe or spiritual presence. Yet a sketch of these artistic achievements is, by the artist’s own admission, not meant as a work of art in itself. Many of Purves’ sketches appear more functional than artistic. And yet wander over to the Whitney Humanities Center and there they hang, worthy of display. In effect, what Purves accomplished in his rough drawings of Rome’s breathtaking architecture was to take art and turn it into not-art, but there is certainly something exciting and immediate about the sketches on display.
The Whitney Humanities Center has rightly turned those sketches into art again. Purves’ works capture Rome in short but powerful glances. His acquaintance with its monuments and the limitations of his sketchbook make for a striking exhibition.
Across the street from Payne Whitney Gym, a middle-aged Indian man worked the convenience store counter at a Shell gas station. The door was locked for the night. Customers lined up at the cash booth, where Vinay Kumar gave them their purchases through a slit in the glass.
Kumar has been working at the station for four years now. When asked whether he thought the surrounding neighborhood is safe, he chuckled, gesturing to the area near Ezra Stiles and Morse colleges.
“That part is safe,” Kumar said in his clipped accent. Then he pointed to houses behind the station, toward Dixwell Avenue: “That part — no, dangerous.”
A police cruiser was sitting in the gas station’s parking lot. The officer on duty, Richard Gonzalez, arrived in New Haven from New York City five years ago. Gonzalez said he relished the “challenge” New Haven offers.
“This city’s home to every little neighborhood gang you can think of,” Gonzalez remarked. “Crips, Bloods and wannabes.”
Gonzalez works the beat around Whalley Avenue every day from midnight to 7 a.m. He warned against straying any farther than the gas station. As he said, the chances of encountering violent crime increase as someone travels away from Yale and the downtown core. Theft is common around campus, but gang violence and assault occur more frequently around peripheral neighborhoods, Gonzalez said.
Gonzalez’s words echo a notion shared by many residents, Yale students and locals alike: New Haven is more a collection of distinct neighborhoods than a unified city. Both the type of crime and the rate of its occurrence vary sharply from one street to the another, from one corner to the next.
Apart from the all-encompassing issue of economic inequality, it is impossible to ignore the impact of the architectural environment on crime. An examination of New Haven’s physical structures and urban layout presents a new way to look at criminal activity in the city and offers an alternative perspective on possible solutions.
CODE OF THE STREET
Past Payne Whitney Gym, Yale’s neo-Gothic stylings and the city’s bustling restaurant scene give way to dense residential areas blocked off from the wider street with tall brick walls. Yale students are made aware of incidents of theft and assault through regular emails from Yale Police Department Chief Ronnell Higgins; however, gang violence remains largely outside of the Yale experience.
“Yale provides a pretty good safety net,” Orit Abrahim ’15 said.
Last month, the New Haven Police Department announced that the city’s homicide rate dropped by 50 percent from 2011 to 2012, reaching a three-year low of 17 homicides. At around the same time, DataHaven — a nonprofit organization that compiles public information for the New Haven Greater Area — published a map identifying the distribution of murder incidents across the city. The map highlighted the differences in safety between neighborhoods like Dixwell and Newhallville, and the communities surrounding East Rock, a location inhabited by many professors and graduate students.
“Crime rates can vary tremendously from block to block,” said DataHaven Executive Director Mark Abraham ’04.
While most sections of the city reported crime rates close to the statewide average, some of the crime hot spots in the Elm City include lower-income neighborhoods, with murders and violent crime concentrating in locations where late-night retail stores are open, where alcohol is served or where drugs are sold illegally, Abraham said.
Between 2005 and 2012, New Haven saw a total of 155 homicides, or nearly 20 per year, according to the statistics released by DataHaven. Roughly 85 percent of the homicides were reported to occur in only one-third of Elm City’s neighborhoods. All of the neighborhoods that have been impacted by two or more homicides in the past seven years are predominantly African-American like Newhallville, or Hispanic like Fair Haven.
Sociological studies have suggested that this disparity can be traced back to racial segregation, high unemployment and other problems besetting black and Hispanic communities across the nation.
In his 1999 book “Code of the Street,” sociology professor and urban ethnographer Elijah Anderson researched the black ghetto community in northern Philadelphia, Penn. The neighborhood is ridden with unemployment, social inequality and racial exclusion, which often resulted in crime rates similar to those registered in New Haven.
“I have studied Philadelphia specifically, but I believe that the same factors might be involved here in New Haven,” Anderson said.
Starting in the late 1960s, he explained, local manufacturers and factories began to close down and jobs were moved to non-metropolitan areas, then to Mexico, China and other developing countries. As more and more New Haven residents remained unemployed, they resorted to new means of self-preservation and moneymaking that have profoundly changed the urban environment: begging, drug-trading and street crime.
“Poverty and unemployment lead to desperation, and desperation can make a good man go wrong,” Anderson said.
In addition to racial segregation, failure to properly reintegrate ex-offenders into mainstream society has also had a large impact on the high crime rates among minorities, said Abraham. Specifically, he added, three-quarters of the African-American men involved in homicides in the past seven years had been convicted of prior felonies.
But some Yale students interviewed said linking high crimes rates to certain ethnic communities creates exaggerated fears in the general population, increasing the stigma that racial minorities already face.
“I don’t feel unsafe in New Haven — because I’m not afraid of people of color,” Christofer Rodelo ’15 said.
Wooster Square hosts some of New Haven’s most frequented locales: Frank Pepe’s renowned pizza restaurant and the Saturday morning farmer’s market, which features a weekly range of gastronomic delights for the locally minded consumer.
But behind a long wooden fence lives the rest of the Wooster community, where public housing serves as home to some of the city’s most impoverished citizens. The idyllic marketplace environment is maintained by the physical division along Highway 91, which obscures from view a starkly different portrait of New Haven.
“There are exceptions to this, but New Haven is a segregated city,” urban design professor Elihu Rubin said. “It is a city of enclaves and neighborhoods.”
Intercity divisions have also been the focus of the NHPD in their effort to keep crime down. When the homicide rate reached a 17-year-high of 34 homicides in 2011, Mayor John DeStefano Jr. announced the appointment of Dean Esserman as New Haven’s new police chief. A former NHPD assistant chief from 1991 to 1993, Esserman wasted no time: After taking the helm of the city’s Police
Department in November 2011, Esserman spearheaded a return to community policing — a strategy that moves officers away from their desks and puts them on walking patrols of the streets.
“People talk to us: They might not talk to the 911 operator, but it’s amazing how they reach out to their police officers,” Esserman said.
As police officers roam New Haven neighborhoods and interact with residents, this community-oriented policing strategy aims to increase police visibility, build trust with community residents and deter criminal activities, said City Hall spokeswoman Anna Mariotti.
As the Police Department plans to ramp up its manpower with 100 new hires over the next two years, Esserman’s policing philosophy seems to have borne fruit: New Haven saw only 17 homicides in 2012, the lowest homicide rate since 2009, when 13 homicides were reported to have occurred in the city.
“Literally hundreds of family members and neighbors were affected by that carnage,” DeStefano said at a press conference in January.
“Clearly, we were off track from where we needed to be. The community knew it, and we all wanted to reset our expectations.”
But some people are not as optimistic about last year’s crime drop. Abraham from DataHaven said that it is not possible to establish a pattern within one single year, because of the uneven distribution of homicides from month to month.
“If you look at the past decade, you’ll see many months with no homicides, and others that recorded a homicide every week — for that reason, I wouldn’t base conclusions on one year of data,” Abraham said.
There is reason to be skeptical about the effectiveness of community policing in its ability to reach out to disenfranchised community members. Dixwell resident Sajib Mitchell, 23, said he does not feel comfortable approaching police officers for help. He has witnessed incidents of gun violence around his home, and many of his former middle school classmates are now in prison under drug charges.
“There is a lack of support for youth from the older generation,” Mitchell said.
Sociology professor Andrew Papachristos said gang violence in New Haven is localized. Disputes occur within parameters as small as one street or intersection. This is in contrast to violent crime in other major cities such as Chicago, where gang activity is spread out geographically, making it more difficult to pinpoint certain areas in which it is more prevalent.
Many of the city’s small, localized gangs are inspired by larger and more infamous gangs. Papachristos said one group refers to itself as the “Grape St. Crips,” after the prominent gang in Los Angeles. Dixwell, Newhallville, Kensington Street and a housing block known as the “Jungle” — situated, ironically, across from the New Haven police station — are regarded as hotbeds for violent activity.
Kristina Zallinger, 66, is a painter who has lived in and around New Haven for much of her life. Of intercity divisions, she said, “I don’t think things are ever going to change — the poor are going to live in the center and somewhat on the outskirts of the city, and there will be richer residences down Whitney Avenue and into the areas off Orange Street.”
Zallinger attributed gentrification in the downtown area to efforts made by Yale to, as she put it, “get rid of the poor.” She pointed out that when the Smilow Cancer Hospital at Yale-New Haven was constructed, homes were torn down to make room for the new care center. She expressed worry that such developments left the city’s poorer residents in dire straits.
“The more that happens, the more we’re pushing out the poor because they have nowhere else to go,” Zallinger remarked. “They live in New Haven, and that’s what they’re used to.”
Papachristos said that violent crime occurs primarily in regions that lack “eyes on the street” — storefronts, parks and other locales where residents can be engaged in the community and monitor one another’s behavior.
Located just northwest of the downtown area, the central parts of the Dixwell community saw five to seven homicides per block group between the years 2005 and 2011. Walking along Dixwell Avenue, the markers of disrepair are clear: boarded-up storefronts stand alongside dilapidated apartment buildings, their aging frames obscured by fences all around. A man sits on the front steps of the Hannah Gray Senior Home at the corner of Dixwell and Charles streets, waiting for a ride.
When asked whether he feels safe where he lives, the man shakes his head. He points at a plaza along the block: “There were a few killings there last year.”
Since being robbed at Dixwell Mini Mart last year, he has stopped going grocery shopping in the neighborhood. He added that he rarely goes out at night, as there is little outdoor lighting along the street.
Back on campus, students worry about other types of crime, namely “apple-picking”: the crime wave targeting Apple products across the nation.
The contrast between crime in different parts of the city can be partly explained by Oscar Newman’s “defensible space theory,” Papachristos said. Defensible space theory is the notion that the physical characteristics of a residential environment can allow inhabitants to ensure their own safety.
For example, Papachristos said, high-rise public housing complexes tend to foster gang violence because of their compact nature, which allows prospective criminals an easily accessible view into the lives of their neighbors. The debate over the “high rise, high crime” theory is an ongoing one, with crime experts and architects alike speculating over whether the crimes occur as a result of the built environment, or if they are merely symptoms of pre-existing problems.
Before Zallinger moved into her current subsidized housing complex on Dixwell Avenue a year ago, she lived for eight years in a high-rise building on the corner of Audubon and Orange streets called the Charles T. McQueeney Apartments.
“It’s full of drugs, full of prostitution, full of everything you can imagine,” Zallinger recalled. “The 10th floor was the drug floor, and even though they let a police officer live in the building for free, he didn’t do a damn thing.”
She said that while she tried to advocate for improvements on the building, it was difficult to implement changes. When she first moved in, the landlords conducted drug tests and background checks on prospective residents, but those practices have long ended.
“It’s a microcosm of the city,” Zallinger said, adding that she “couldn’t wait to get out.”
In considering the effects of urban planning on crime, Rubin noted that it is important to remember the simple steps, such as added street lighting, that can be taken toward crafting a safer streetscape.
“Active streets are safer streets,” he added. “Architecture can help, but it’s not the only answer. Well-maintained buildings and attractive spaces can support an active and peaceable life of the street.”
According to Abraham, spaces like parks, community gardens and public plazas can cause dramatic reductions in crime, as they provide a place for neighbors to meet and build the “informal social networks that are needed to keep crime under control.”
Architectural elements can also be important instruments in the fight against street crime, as shown in an interactive website launched in January by the UK Association of Chief Police Officers. The website is part of the Secured by Design program, a flagship initiative which focuses on crime prevention of homes and commercial premises through the use of security solutions, such as well-designed walking routes, adequate lighting and windows overlooking the street. According to the UK Association of Chief Police Officers, these principles have been proven to reduce burglary and crime by up to 75 percent.
“There is evidence that these features improve residents’ perception of neighborhood safety, even if they do not cause actual crime reductions in and of themselves,” Abraham noted, adding that New Haven urban planners have sometimes ignored many of the architectural solutions listed on the website.
Today, at the Legislative Office Building in Hartford, infrastructure design, safety and security experts will convene to address the Sandy Hook Advisory Commission on how improvements to urban planning can help prevent gun crime. Randall Luther, a partner at Tai Sook Kim Partners architecture firm, who will be speaking before the panel, said some safety disparities may be attributed to zoning.
Luther explained that while there are many businesses in downtown Hartford, the lack of residential spaces means that the area is nearly empty at night. New Haven is fortunate, Luther said, because Yale’s presence creates a critical mass of activity at the center of the city.
It is not surprising, then, that most of the good urban planning is to be found in the downtown area. Looking back to when he lived in New Haven a few years ago, Luther noted that at the corner of Audubon Street and Whitney Avenue, close to where the current Undergraduate Career Services center is located, the buildings house storefronts on the first floor and housing above. Likewise, the areas immediately around the southern edge of the Green boast a fair amount of activity thanks to the array of restaurants and their proximity to Yale, Luther said.
“You need a certain critical mass of people,” Luther said. “Once you get below that number, things start to get a little dicey.”
Luther observed that attracting activity to certain parts of the city has to do with reaching a tipping point: “The hard part is, how do you get started? Who’s the first person to open a restaurant or a business in an area that’s not so good? It’s hard to be the first one to go out there and stick around until other people follow you.”
Abraham said vacant buildings and empty lots are often home to violent crime incidents. New housing and commercial developments, he added, can lessen criminal activities, as studies have suggested that people tend to walk more frequently in neighborhoods teeming with businesses and residences.
“New development is a great way to fill in these gaps in the urban fabric,” Abraham said. “It can reduce crime by eliminating vacant lots, as well as add more resources to a neighborhood by creating more places to walk.”
2:17 P.M., DIXWELL AVENUE
Farther down Dixwell Avenue, an open convenience store blended into the procession of closed, bedraggled storefronts on the street. Inside Dixwell Mini Mart, a young man was working behind the counter. When a group of young people wearing black jackets and baseball caps walked inside, the shopkeeper turned silent.
“We can’t talk,” he stuttered.
The men were laughing about an incident from the night before. “I walked right past the cop,” one of them said. Another retorted,
“They say you can’t be carrying dangerous weapons — I was carrying a baseball bat coming home from practice.”
Beside him, a thin man was slumped against the wall: “Yeah, they said I had a revolver.”
Moving away from Yale’s ivory-tower campus and towards the vacant buildings and empty lots of impoverished Elm City neighborhoods, gaps in the urban fabric are often filled by gangs of teens and criminals that respect no rule but what sociology professor Anderson calls “the code of the street.”
“People [in these neighborhoods] feel like they are on their own,” Anderson said. “Street credibility then becomes the most important thing in a community.”
The need for increased resources on a large scale — in terms of employment, education and health care — is clear, but the city cannot overlook the architectural and urban design changes that can be crucial in the ongoing fight against crime. An additional effort to enliven the cityscape can serve to shatter the separations, both physical and sociological, that obstruct safety in each community.
It can be as simple as putting a streetlight on the corner.
Last week, Paul Goldberger ’72 won the National Building Museum’s 14th annual Vincent Scully Prize — as good as it gets in his field — for his life-long work as an architecture critic, first at The New York Times (where he won a Pulitzer in 1984) and, until last year, at The New Yorker, where he wrote the magazine’s “Sky Line” column. These days, he serves as a contributing editor to Vanity Fair and lectures at The New School in New York, where he holds the Joseph Urban Chair in Design and Architecture. Goldberger’s most recent book, “Why Architecture Matters,” was released by Yale University Press in 2009. Goldberger caught up with WEEKEND and riffed on his former pro- fessor, campus buildings and the contemporary constituency for architecture.
Q. You just won the Scully Prize. Congrats! Vincent Scully was a legendary Yale professor, right, and also your teacher? What should my generation know about Scully?
A. Well, he was an extraordinary professor because he managed to connect architecture to all of culture and all of life. He was a very compelling lecturer. His lectures were famous, they were extraordinary things. He filled up the auditorium — he was a very powerful presence — and would talk about architecture in this way that I’d never heard it talked about before, with incredible passion and energy and connection to the rest of culture. He would read from Wallace Stevens or Robert Lowell or what have you and make connections between architectural ideas and literature and so forth. So it was very exciting and eye-opening, and I think the greatest impact he had over time was not on people who became architects but on non-architects, in making a greater constituency for architecture: in making people look more, in making people care more, maybe making people better clients. For all I know, a thousand bankers over the years took his class and when they became heads of banks made better buildings. We’ll never know for sure, but I really think so.
Q. When you were a student at Yale, did you appreciate the campus architecture?
A. Yeah, very much. It was one of the things that attracted me to Yale. I first saw some of the modern buildings in magazines, and that got me very excited. And then when I actually arrived, I had the sort of weird experience of discovering that I also liked the Gothic architecture, and all the old stuff, which, if you were serious about architecture in those days, you weren’t supposed to like. And coming to terms with all that was actually one of the interesting things of my years at Yale — just discovering that it was okay to like very different kinds of things. That sometimes buildings got surrounded by a set of ideas that were almost too much, and that made [the two] seem inconsistent — as if they didn’t belong together. In fact, architecture and morality didn’t make a very interesting argument. In the end, I think it’s much more about visual pleasure and about ideas of use and, potentially, aesthetic excitement.
Q. What goes unnoticed about Yale’s architecture?
A. Today, I don’t know that anything goes unnoticed, because, over the last generation, there’s been so much more attention paid to it. Also, so many of the great Yale buildings have been beautifully restored. Yale’s put a huge amount of money into taking care of the great architecture it has. And now a lot of the modern buildings are half a century old, and they’re getting rehabilitated as well as the older ones. The last set of the Rick Levin years have been an amazing time in terms of just taking care of what Yale has. But the thing that is so subtle about those buildings is the way they come together to make a larger place. Yale is an urban campus — it’s not off in some beautiful countryside somewhere. It’s in the middle of a city, and yet those buildings are so powerful and they come together so beautifully to make a whole that is larger than the sum of its parts. That’s what great urban architecture is supposed to do — it’s supposed to come together to make a larger whole. That wasn’t appreciated once. In the ’50s and ’60s, when the modern buildings were being built, every building was kind of a prima donna of its own, and the idea that these buildings should defer to a larger whole to give the place coherence was just not something people got or cared about. I think now they do. I think now people recognize that’s part of the virtue of the Yale buildings.
Q. As an architecture critic, can you ever truly isolate one structure?
A. Well, you can. I think you have to look at buildings in both ways at the same time. I think that’s part of the excitement of architecture: it’s many things at once. Every one of those buildings can and should be looked at as a building unto itself and also as part of a larger whole. And I think the modern buildings, too. The modern buildings are usually more successful as buildings unto themselves and less successful as parts of a larger whole. The older buildings, a lot of them are successful both ways, which is in some way the greater accomplishment.
Q. Does that apply only at Yale?
A. Well, it’s an ideal that applies everywhere. It’s not always achieved. And I’m certainly not going to say older buildings are always better than new ones. In fact, it’s important that architecture continue to invent, and be a living, changing art — like painting and literature and music. Understanding and appreciating and respecting what’s come before is the foundation of invention.
Q. But as an architecture critic you don’t just focus on buildings, do you?
A. No, I’m interested in cities, in city planning, in historic preservation; in design of objects, too. I’m interested in going both bigger than buildings, with urban design, and smaller than buildings, to objects. I’m sitting at my desk looking right now at an iPhone and an Apple computer. Those are amazing objects that show we’ve come an extraordinary distance in terms of the design of consumer objects in the last generation.
Q. Is there a difference between an architecture review and, say, a book review or a theater review?
A. Yes and no. I think an architecture review is less of a consumer guide. With a movie review, part of the function is to tell you: should you or should you not bother to go to the movies to see this? An architecture review is not about buying a building. It’s about: “What role does that building have in the culture? What role does it have in the city? What role is it going to have not only for the people who use it every day, but for the people who pass it and never go in? What’s its presence? What’s its meaning?” It’s not a consumer guide in that sense. Though maybe it is, because maybe the way we consume buildings is by looking at them.
Q. Architecture is at once functional and aesthetic; so are essays. Do you see any similarities between crafting an essay and designing a building?
A. An essay has a certain kind of structure and logic to it. Hopefully, it’s a beautiful piece of writing, so it has some degree of aesthetic accomplishment or quality to it, but it also fulfills a function in that it conveys an idea. So yeah, in that sense, an essay does exist in all those different realms — in some of them, at least.
Q. One last question: did you write for the News?
A. I never did write for the Daily News, no. I wrote for The New Journal, which truly was new when I was there. It started a year or two before I came to Yale, but it was still a pretty new thing. And I just kind of fell in with the people running it, and I was particularly interested in magazine writing, and I’d done a bit of it already. I wasn’t trying to avoid the News; it’s just that I started writing for The New Journal and eventually I became an editor of it. So I never did write for the Daily News. My son, who’s in the class of ’08, did. He was a sports reporter for several years. You got one Goldberger
On Nov. 15, Yale alumnus Paul Goldberger ’72 was awarded the National Building Museum’s 14th annual Vincent Scully Prize, an honor named after history of art professor Vincent Scully ’40 GRD ’49 — the Sterling Professor who mentored Goldberger while he was an undergraduate at Yale.
A Pulitzer Prize-winning architecture critic, Goldberger received his prize during a public presentation at the museum last week, where he delivered a talk entitled “Architectural Criticism in the Age of Twitter.” Maya Lin ’81 ARC ’86, who designed the Women’s Table in front of Sterling Memorial Library, gave the opening remarks.
In an interview with the National Building Museum, Goldberger — author of the book “Why Architecture Matters” — said Scully first exposed him to the architecture discipline in high school when he took a field trip to Yale.
“Architecture had an almost holy aura in that lecture hall,” Goldberger said in the interview.
The Scully Prize was established in 1999 by the National Building Museum and is among the most renowned prizes in the architecture field. It is awarded yearly in recognition of “exemplary practice, scholarship, or criticism in architecture, historic preservation, and urban design.”