Although Yalies often bemoan the outdated architecture of Morse and Ezra Stiles colleges, New Yorker architecture critic Paul Goldberger ’72 manages to find architectural beauty underneath the surface of the colleges.
The large crowd at the Branford Master’s Tea Thursday afternoon gathered to listen to Goldberger discuss the architecture of the past, present and future before an audience of architecture enthusiasts and novices alike. Goldberger, who won the Pulitzer Prize in 1984, described current issues in architecture and the role of the critic and the architect in society today.
Goldberger said every structure has a narrative, which critics must try to tell in the act of criticizing the work. But he said he finds it hard to write when he does not have a clear-cut opinion, preferring to either love or hate his subject.
“One of my biggest challenges is when the reality is a shade of gray — not black or white — and to still create an interesting piece, not a mass of meaningless prose,” he said.
In his time as a student at Yale, Goldberger said, he did not have a hard time appreciating — or on occasion criticizing — each and every historical and innovative building in New Haven. He said buildings like Ezra Stiles, Morse, and the Art and Architecture Building have a “profound” quality even if they are not popular any longer.
“Things take on a patina, and when they have a history, they have a type of meaning and they can form new perceptions over time,” he said.
As Goldberger spoke of New Haven and his love of the city, many in the audience were curious about his thoughts about Saturday’s demolition of the New Haven Coliseum.
Goldberger, who was opposed to the demolition, said the mass of dust and rubble created by the implosion initially reminded him of the post-9/11 site of the Twin Towers. Goldberger wrote about the connection between architecture and politics in the rebuilding of Ground Zero — perhaps the most daunting urban architecture task of our time — in his 2004 book “Up From Zero.”
“People must recognize that architecture cannot solve all social problems and cannot in an instant correct political justice,” Goldberger said.
Architecture is now being viewed more as art, Goldberger said, which he believes is largely positive for the field.
“With the concern for dramatic, sexy or awe-inspiring buildings, we don’t want to lose desire for nice, ordinary stuff and background buildings,” he said. “Every building can’t be a prima donna.”
Goldberger said he writes for the reader — not the editor or the architect — and hopes to expand the constituency for architecture by making his work widely accessible.
Many of the architecture aficionados and majors in the crowd said they respected Goldberger’s provocative ideas.
Nick Robbins ’10 said Goldberger’s extensive background made for arewarding discussion.
“I appreciate his ability to make informed statements, but staying diplomatic, respecting the role of architecture as a navigator between people and the places they live in,” he said.
Other students who did not have a background in architecture said they also found the talk engaging.
“It was fascinating,” said Bill Fishel ’08. “It was really interesting as a passive observer, and I found it could really relate to me.”
Goldberger also spoke on campus at the recent reopening of the Louis Kahn Art Gallery.