Goldberger on Architectural Criticism in the Age of Twitter

Pulitzer Prize-winning architecture critic Paul Goldberger gave a talk—“Architectural Criticism in the Age of Twitter”—before he was presented with the fourteenth Vincent Scully Prize at the National Building Museum. Goldberger, currently a contributing editor at Vanity Fair, examined the state of architectural criticism today, why it should exist, and whether it makes any real difference in public discourse. He says it does “truly shape the city.”

While he noted that “architecture critics have never been plentiful,” Goldberger also spoke about a “greater sense of engagement that people almost everywhere now seem to have with the built environment, a heightened sense of caring about what their neighborhoods, streets, downtowns, and public spaces will look like and feel like to use.”

Architectural criticism is “on the front line,” a way into architecture for most people. It’s not just entertainment for just a few readers. Its implicit mission is to help people better understand the forces, usually beyond their control, that have “imposed” the architecture that they experience.

Goldberger addressed the disappearance of journalistic hegemony and the advent of electronic media. While mainstream publications with an ongoing commitment to architecture criticism continue to possess a degree of authority, they are struggling to make themselves heard in this noise. It is clear to Goldberger that “the playing field may be level, but the players are not equal.”

To Goldberger, new media appeals to architecture because of the ease in transmitting images. He admitted to a certain pleasure in tweeting, and said that Twitter really isn’t such a bad vehicle for architecture criticism—“after all, some buildings aren’t worth more than 140 characters.” However, he acknowledged that some of most meaningful ideas cannot be transmitted through this brief medium.

What, then, is the critic’s role in this era of 140-character tweets, Tumblr posts, and Pinterest boards? In Goldberger’s view, it is too late to “go back to an age of celestial authority,” for the world has changed too much. The critic is still needed to show people that architecture matters and its effect on their lives:

“Crowdsourcing is not the express train to wisdom. The most popular is not always the best. The new is not always easy to understand. And the last word will always be history’s. But this is always the critic’s challenge. In an age in which attention spans are ever shorter, it is the critic’s job to take the long view. Maybe that’s the most important thing of all that criticism can give us, to help us step back from the noise, to try and maintain the luxury of extended thought, to think long term. Architecture, after all, is about the long term. And it is the critic’s job how it performs its alchemy, how it does its magic, how it affects us, and to encourage and support that process, enhancing the impact of architecture as a resonant presence in all of our lives.”

This guest post is by Karen Trimbath, ASLA’s Public Relations Manager.

Image credit: Paul Goldberger / © Anne McDonough Photography

3 thoughts on “Goldberger on Architectural Criticism in the Age of Twitter

  1. John Egan 11/27/2012 / 1:09 pm

    Great lecture! I also enjoyed his reminiscing about sitting in Scully’s lectures on Architecture while a student at Yale even after he’d taken the course.

  2. MM Jones 12/03/2012 / 6:11 am

    Yet another perpetuation of the misconception that the use of Twitter must mean that the conversation ends at 140 characters, when a great number of tweets are links to blog posts, essays, online publications, etc. or are part of a back-and-forth conversation between multiple, engaged thinkers. Goldberger is on Twitter but either doesn’t understand it or is misrepresenting it in a regrettable mix of misrepresentation and hyperbole.

    • Emaleigh 12/03/2012 / 2:33 pm

      Totally agree with MM Jones. I saw this story shared on Twitter and immediately thought it odd that Paul Goldberger (@paulgoldberger) was even speaking about Twitter as a medium. Articles aside, his Twitter account is not particularly engaging, mostly used for output with little to spark conversation. There are plenty of other critics, in cities like San Francisco, Philadelphia and Los Angeles for example, that are really making a statement on Twitter. They’re keeping active accounts and reaching far beyond their columns, sharing articles and stories (including work they didn’t write), and engaging the public in a conversation about cities and architecture’s importance in our everyday lives. If you want to really talk about bringing architecture to “the people” in a new way, it’ll take you just a few minutes browsing the Twitterverse to see where its really going down. It’s great to see – I’d argue people are learning from critics more than ever before.

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