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HOME > Biographical > 100 New Yorkers of the 1970s > WESTSIDER PAUL GOLDBERGER
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Architecture critic for the New York Times


"What is architecture? It's the whole built environment. It's the outside of a building, the inside, the function; it serves social needs, physical needs. … And a building has an obligation to work well with the buildings around it — at least in the city."

The speaker is Paul Goldberger, architecture critic for the New York Times. His immaculate suit and tie, refined manners, dry wit, and somewhat formal way of speaking seem to mark him a Timesman even more than the carefully researched, colorfully written articles that have poured out of his pen in the last four years.

As a critic, Goldberger is accustomed to vocalizing opinions and facts in equal measure. His open-mindedness on architectural styles is demonstrated by his apartment, a lavish, ultramodernized suite of high ceilinged rooms inside one of the oldest buildings on Central Park West. The interview begins with a trick question: "What is the third tallest building in New York?" (Answer: the Empire State Building.) He fields it without cracking a smile.

"I guess the question is, do you consider the World Trade Center two buildings?" he says. "I guess it's like asking whether Grover Cleveland was two presidents or one because he served two non-consecutive terms. … The World Trade Center was not necessary built functionally or very pleasing aesthetically. It was built as a kind of symbol of power by the Port Authority. I'm used to it now; human beings can adapt to anything. I even like going to the restaurant at the top and the restaurant at the bottom. It's the floors in the middle I don't like."

He points to the new Citicorp Center on East 53rd Street as an example of modern architecture at its best, and the mosquelike Cultural Center at Columbus Circle as an example of the opposite. "It's pretty horrible," says the critic, agreeing with a newspaper writer who recently labeled the Cultural Center one of the 12 ugliest buildings in Manhattan. "It's a very silly building; it's so obviously dumb. But it doesn't particularly bother me. It's almost innocent, it's so silly."

Lincoln Center, too, draws his barbs. "I find it very pretentious. Rather boring, really. It's a set of imitations of classical themes. The buildings are an unfortunate compromise because the builders were afraid to build something really modern, or to design something that really looked like a classical building. … There's a feeling that they sort of want to be modern and sort of want to be classical and end up being a very unsatisfying compromise.&qu............
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