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Who's in the Video
Paul Goldberger is the architecture critic for The New Yorker magazine, where he has written his "Sky Line" column since 1997. He also holds the Joseph Urban Chair in Design[…]

The economic downturn has drastically cut the volume of new buildings. But the pause may “cleanse a lot of the crap out of the system.”

Question: What have been some of the main effects of the recession on architecture?

Paul Goldberger:rn Well I think the recession is doing two things.  First, it cuts the rnvolume of building hugely. You know, the first thing you give up in bad rntimes is building a new building.  I mean, you've got to eat, you’ve gotrn to do certain other essential things, but building a building for most rnpeople, for most businesses, most institutions, is an optional thing.  rnAnd so when times are tough, you give it up.  It's both optional and rnunbelievably expensive.  So therefore, it’s the first thing to go.  rnThat’s the bad effect, obviously, of the recession. 

The good rneffect, though, is that it can kind of can cleanse a lot of the crap outrn of the system.  I mean, we’ve just come through a period of enormous rnand, in some ways excessive, prosperity.  A lot of what we’ve built has rnbeen excessive and more than a little vulgar.  So if the recession puts rnan end to the McMansion, it will have been a social good in some way rnactually.  That’s not to—I don’t mean to be flippant about it, obviouslyrn there is more social ill to a recession than social good, but somewherern within all the awful stuff, there’ll be a modest silver lining and thatrn might be that we will begin to understand that, you know, an rnupper-middle class prosperous family of four does not require 15,000 rnsquare feet of living space as a bare minimum, which is the way a lot ofrn the country's been operating in the age of the McMansion.
Has the recession affected certain types of architecture disproportionately?

Paul Goldberger: The recession’s affected architecture atrn all levels, I think, because there’s not much money to build.  rnRemember, commercial building, nobody builds with their own money.  It’srn all money that gets lent by financial institutions.  And they’re not rndoing it right now, in this climate.  So buildings at all levels have rnbeen affected.  The government is not building much, commercial rndevelopers are not building much.  About the only amount of building yourn do see is some institutional building; academic institutions, cultural rninstitutions, perhaps that had been planning projects for a long time, rnhave raised a lot of the money they need through private philanthropy rnand are also figuring that, with construction way down this is actually arn good time because they can build it at a cheaper price then they might rnif things come back in a couple of years. So they’re going ahead with a rncertain number of projects, but an awful lot of stuff is not rnhappening—in that category as well as other categories.  So, it’s way rndown at all levels. 

We’re coming out of this period when rnarchitecture’s been incredibly ambitious and sometimes too ambitious rneven.  Although far be it from me as an architecture critic to say rnthere’s such a thing as architecture being too ambitious, but in fact, rnsometimes it has been.  It’s tried to hard; it’s sort of acted as if it rnwas going to solve all the world’s ills by a bunch of fancy buildings. 

Inrn any case, I think we are pulling back on a lot of that stuff and there,rn there is both a good and a bad side also.  The good side is sometimes rnthings are being done just in a more simple, clear, basic way without a rnlot of unnecessary frills and fuss.  You know, it kind of... maybe we’llrn get back to a respect for a kind of modernist purity sometimes.  And rnthat's all to the good. 

On the other hand, if things are just rndone more cheaply with crappy, junky materials, that’s not to the good. rn And I think we’re seeing some of both of those things right now.

Recorded on June 22, 2010
Interviewed by David Hirschman