Why Architecture Matters

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Why Architecture Matters is not a work of architectural history or a guide to the styles or an architectural dictionary, though it contains elements of all three. The purpose of Why Architecture Matters is to “come to grips with how things feel to us when we stand before them, with how architecture affects us emotionally as well as intellectually”—with its impact on our lives. “Architecture begins to matter,” writes Paul Goldberger, “when it brings delight and sadness and perplexity and awe along with a roof over our heads.” He shows us how that works in examples ranging from a small Cape Cod cottage to the “vast, flowing” Prairie houses of Frank Lloyd Wright, from the Lincoln Memorial to the highly sculptural Guggenheim Bilbao and the Church of Sant’Ivo in Rome, where “simple geometries . . . create a work of architecture that embraces the deepest complexities of human imagination.”

Based on decades of looking at buildings and thinking about how we experience them, the distinguished critic raises our awareness of fundamental things like proportion, scale, space, texture, materials, shapes, light, and memory. Upon completing this remarkable architectural journey, readers will enjoy a wonderfully rewarding new way of seeing and experiencing every aspect of the built world.

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Editorial Reviews

Architecture Bulletin

“Placing on display the most public of all the arts can be astonishing. Paul Goldberger, collecting his thoughts on architecture over 40 years, does this. His book, Why Architecture Matters, could be said to be a portable architectural museum that, by turns, astonishes, intrigues, explains and entrances.”--Architecture Bulletin
Blueprint Magazine
The strength of populist writing like Goldberger’s is that it is accessible and engaging.—Penny Lewis, Blueprint Magazine

— Penny Lewis

Scottish Sunday Herald
Best of all, Goldberger combines forensic analysis of the architectural art with a sense of wonder.—Jonathan Wright, Scottish Sunday Herald

— Jonathan Wright

The Virginia Quarterly Review
This generously illustrated volume anchors its speculations in brief discussions of buildings that manage this hard-won equilibrium.—Brian Sholis, The Virginia Quarterly Review

— Brian Sholis

Tracy Kidder

“Paul Goldberger is America's foremost interpreter of public architecture. . . "—Tracy Kidder

Alain de Botton

"Why Architecture Matters reminds us that in a democratic capitalist society, the only sure guarantee that we will get good architecture is if we shake off our ignorance and start to take a personal interest in the design of our neighborhoods. Here is a succinct, lyrical and heartfelt book that celebrates the best works of architecture and points the way to being able to build more of it in the world today. There are so many guides to the world of art, so few to the world of architecture. This is among the very best."—Alain de Botton, author of The Architecture of Happiness

Witold Rybczynski

"A beautifully written and generous meditation on the art of building that every aspiring architect should read."--Witold Rybczynski, author of The Perfect House

Blueprint Magazine - Penny Lewis

“The strength of populist writing like Goldberger’s is that it is accessible and engaging.”--Penny Lewis, Blueprint Magazine
Scottish Sunday Herald - Jonathan Wright

“Best of all, Goldberger combines forensic analysis of the architectural art with a sense of wonder.”--Jonathan Wright, Scottish Sunday Herald
The Virginia Quarterly Review - Brian Sholis

"This generously illustrated volume anchors its speculations in brief discussions of buildings that manage this hard-won equilibrium."—Brian Sholis, The Virginia Quarterly Review
Kirk Savage
Paul Goldberger is America's preeminent public critic of architecture, and his wise, compassionate Why Architecture Matters sums up a lifetime spent exploring, reflecting and writing. Some of the most affecting parts of the book are drawn from his deeply personal experience, growing up in the lively streetscape of 1950s Passaic, N.J., sojourning in the architectural wonderland of Yale University, and coming to terms with the construction and destruction of the Twin Towers.
—The Washington Post
Publishers Weekly
With a broad topic and a deep reach, this collection of work from New Yorker architecture critic Goldberger reflects on the meanings and effects of architecture, both in the abstract and in everyday life. From specific places like the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C. ("may be one of the few great architectural works anywhere whose approach is marked only by directional signs, not by a glimpse of the thing itself") to discussion of individual architects (Saarinesen, Lloyd Wright, etc.), Goldberger is clear and direct throughout, occasionally addressing readers directly with questions and thought experiments ("For the next few pages ... think only in terms of what a building looks like when you stand before it") that help recreate the architectural thought process. Sometimes focused too narrowly on the author's own experience (breathlessly recounted memories of architectural epiphany can fall flat), Goldberger occasionally risks alienating readers who lack his enthusiasm. For students and fans of architecture, however, this makes an elegant but energetic tour of building design, aesthetics, construction and inspiration that should encourage new ways of viewing one's surroundings. 55 b & w illustrations.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Library Journal
Pulitzer Prize-winning author Goldberger has long been recognized by readers of the New York Times and The New Yorker as an architecture critic on a par with venerated peers like Ada Louise Huxtable and Lewis Mumford. With many books to his credit—most recently an incisive take on Ground Zero doings in Manhattan, Up from Zero: Politics, Architecture, and the Rebuilding of New York—Goldberger sums up a lifetime of musings on things architectural with picturesque essays concerning the way the built environment affects the quality of our daily lives. Owing to telling autobiographical insights incorporated into the narrative, we see how this most diplomatic of observers finds merit in the classicists and preservationists of the last two centuries, as well as in avant-garde innovators such as Corbusier and Frank Gehry. VERDICT Although a bias for the East Coast can be detected, Goldberger's trenchant and deftly communicated insights retain a universal validity. These meditations will entrance and enlighten anyone curious about why the buildings around us affect us as they do.—David Soltész, Cuyahoga Cty. P.L., Parma, OH
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780300144307
  • Publisher: Yale University Press
  • Publication date: 11/3/2009
  • Series: Why X Matters Series
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 273
  • Sales rank: 1,502,731
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 7.80 (h) x 1.20 (d)

Meet the Author

Paul Goldberger

Paul Goldberger is the architecture critic for The New Yorker and has written the magazine's celebrated "Sky Line" column since 1997. He also holds the Joseph Urban Chair in Design and Architecture at The New School in Manhattan. He began his career at The New York Times, where he received a Pulitzer Prize for Distinguished Criticism. Visit the author's website: www.paulgoldberger.com
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Customer Reviews

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Sort by: Showing 1 Customer Reviews
  • Posted April 10, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    Make this part of your architectural library

    In this volume, Goldberger expertly lays out his own aesthetic in a way that inspires the reader to seek out his examples and delve into the many other texts and structures he mentions along the way.

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