"Architecture and Design in a Post-Modern Age" reads the subtitle, a much better (albeit unwieldy) description of the columns/essays contained within. "On the Rise", the actual title, sounds more like a last-minute desperate choice made when nobody could come up with anything better. This collection of Paul Goldberger's work during his first 10 years (1973-82) as the New York Times' architecture critic still resonates today. Originally published in 1983 and certainly no longer timely or hot-topical, just what does this book have to offer the reader of the 21st century?
Amazingly, Goldberger was only in his early 20s when he began at the New York Times, replacing the legendary Ada Louise Huxtable. In his introduction, he writes on the educational function of architecture criticism:
"But one hopes that it is pedagogy of the best sort - not
teaching facts but teaching the reader to find his own facts,
not seeing for the reader but teaching the reader to see for
himself. The critic's comments should not be judgments
handed down from Olympus, they should be words that make
connections in the reader's mind that have not been there
What a refreshing change from the didactic, pedantic pontificating we find in today's academia and media. Goldberger succeeds admirably in his aim whether he's writing about theory, cities, buildings (both public and private), the preservation movement, and the relationship of architecture to its environment. Yes, because these articles date from the days of rotary-dial phones, many of the subjects have been changed radically or are even no longer with us. Goldberger's writing never fails to make the reader, be they newspaper browser or architectural historian, THINK about the issues involved and take into account their relevancy for today.
A major topic of this book is the modernism (then in decline) versus post-modernism (then in ascendancy) debate. While the backlash had started long before this book was published, the "we-can-make-the-world-a-whole-lot-brighter" aesthetic of modernism was being condemned in the public square as a rigid, stiff, utopian orthodoxy. Goldberger reminds his readers again and again (especially in one piece entitled "Now the Religion is Anti-Modernism") that post-modernism was well on its way to becoming the very thing it was reacting against. 25-plus years later, we can see how "mid-century modern" (as it's now called) has returned to vogue/hipness as the pendulum of popular taste has swung back again.
One drawback to this book is the perfunctory use of New York Times file photos as illustrations. When critiquing a visually-oriented art such as architecture, the best descriptive prose in the world cannot replace a good solid photograph to allow the reader to see for himself what is being discussed. Here the publisher/editors have obviously decided to cut costs.
Goldberger is still doing what he does best today for the New Yorker, and his work is easily accessible online. While On the Rise may be a time capsule of sorts, it's one clearly worth returning to. If you are interested in the world of architecture from the 1970s and 1980s, and wish to avoid the ivory-tower elitism so prevalent to the genre, this book is highly recommended.