Architecture critic Paul Goldberger ’72 first became interested in attending Yale when he saw pictures of the University’s then-new Art and Architecture building on the covers of magazines. That initial interest, nourished for four years under the guidance of Yale professors including architectural historian Vincent Scully, eventually grew into a Pulitzer Prize-winning career.
Goldberger returned to Yale Monday to give a Morse College Master’s Tea in another one of the University’s modern buildings.
“It’s amazing to think that these buildings were only a few years old when I arrived [at Yale],” Goldberger said of Morse and Ezra Stiles colleges.
Goldberger, who currently writes The New Yorker’s “Sky Line” column after 25 years at The New York Times, spoke with students at length about problems faced today by architects and cities.
“We’re living in a time when the idea of a city and the idea of a theme park are becoming more and more the same,” he said.
Goldberger’s visit to Yale, which included the Master’s Tea and a more formal talk at the Law School, was sponsored by Yale’s Poynter Fellowship. The Fellowship brings distinguished journalists to campus.
During the tea, Goldberger discussed the current trend toward “high-profile” buildings, which he said threaten to overshadow the importance of the “wholeness of cities” — the notion that buildings ought to interact with and fit into their surroundings. He cited New York’s new Westin Hotel as an example of this trend.
The headline of Goldberger’s Oct. 7 column labeled the Westin the “ugliest building in New York.”
“I’m worried that the focus on blockbuster buildings pushes people away from the issues of background and context,” he said.
Goldberger said he believes that commercial developers eager to hire famous architects have contributed to the problem. The combination of commercial needs and architectural experimentation requires too many sacrifices on both sides, he said.
Goldberger named the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain, as one example of a modern building that effectively blends innovative architecture and commercial success with its surrounding city.
“New modern buildings are more urbanistically responsible,” Goldberger said.
But combining the needs of consumers with aesthetically pleasing architecture is not an easy task, he said.
“I like traditional cities and streets, but maybe Wal-Mart serves certain people better than what we had before,” Goldberger said. “We need — to answer the question: Can this purpose be served as well with something less ugly?”
Students at the tea said they were pleased to hear from someone who had attended Yale.
“I thought it was very interesting to see someone who came from the exact same place and to see where he’s gone from here,” said Sam Kendrick ’06, a student in Scully’s art history class.
Jeffrey Yohalem ’06 also enjoyed the tea, but disagreed with many things that Goldberger said.
“I somehow felt that it’s up to each person to decide what a building does to them,” he said.
Morse College Master Frank Keil said Goldberger told him that the lively discussions with students were one of his favorite parts of visiting Yale.
Goldberger emphasized the importance of popularizing the study of architecture part of his role as a critic.
“At the end of the day, the most important this is being a bridge between a profession and the public,” Goldberger said. “[I want] to try to create a more visually literate, engaged and aware public.”