Paul Goldberger at AIA SF

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By Aaron Britt / Published by Dwell
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Last week I had lunch at the AIA San Francisco to hear New Yorker architecture critic Paul Goldberger discuss his new book Why Architecture Matters. I've read a bit of the book and liked it very much, and have long admired Goldberger's The Sky Line column so it was a real treat to hear one of architecture criticism's leading lights talk about his work.

There must have been about 40 people in attendance, and after Goldberger spoke for 15 minutes about his book--he suggested that the book is about "the place of architecture in the world explained to non-architects"--before opening up the floor to questions. Without covering the full range of the hour and a half talk, which wandered from Silicon Valley campuses to planning snags in New York to the merits of AT&T Park and the Bayview neighborhood in San Francisco, I thought I'd reproduce a number of his insights. I'm somewhat loathe to render them as context-free axioms since Goldberger was nothing if not conversational, but having typed up my notes I can't help but love how sanely precise these dictums seem.

So call it a crib-sheet to his talk, but this handful of remarks that struck me as salient, spot-on, and penetrating. Because Paul Goldberger was all of those things, and on top of that, quite a friendly guy.

Here goes:

On why he likes a great variety of buildings:
"The key thing for a critic is to stand for a set of moral, ethical, and political principles but to be open to a range of aesthetic expressions."

On what cities are still good for even if they're not necessarily centers of manufacturing and trading:
"The purpose of a city is to assure that nobody is only talking to himself. It's a forced mixing chamber."

On urbanism:
"The street is more important than the building. And the city is the greatest achievement of all architecture."

On being too nice in his reviews of buildings:
"In the past I think I have been too generous, too easy on architects and their intentions in their designs. But as time passes the architect's original intentions recede in the face of the sheer fact of the building."

On architectural styles:
"My book might be viewed as an argument against architectural style. Ultimately, style is the least relevant of all the categories we can talk about."