There are two great thrones in American architectural criticism, that of The New Yorker and The New York Times. It was at these two journalistic institutions that the practice was born, at the hands of its king and queen: Lewis Mumford, that great champion of public works and technics, and Ada Louise Huxtable, still the dean of the design press.
Paul Goldberger has been in the fortunate, indeed unique, position of wearing both crowns. After graduating from Yale, he would find himself at The Times in 1973, a young buck roaming the city he loved, engaged to write just about whatever he thought of the buildings and street life therein. He was, quite literally, heir to Ms. Huxtable, who had not yet been pushed out of the paper for her obstreperous ways, and the two of them shared the job of architecture critic for nearly a decade. Two years after she left in 1982, Mr. Goldberger won the Pulitzer for his efforts.
Thirteen years later, in 1997, he would himself depart one side of Times Square for the other, joining The New Yorker, restoring the Sky Line column begun by Mumford half a century earlier at the behest of Tina Brown. “When I went there, I thought it was as perfect a life as you could have,” Mr. Goldberger told The Observer in an interview Sunday evening, “to spend half your career at The Times, half at The New Yorker.”
But like so many landmarks, from the Parthenon to Penn Station, few endure. Starting today, Mr. Goldberger will board the notorious Condé Nast elevator, but instead of getting off on the 20th floor, he will report to work two floors up, where Graydon Carter has finally poached Mr. Goldberger for Vanity Fair.
“I’ve known Graydon a long time, and this is something he has talked about for awhile,” Mr. Goldberger said. “When he heard I might be leaving the critic’s post at The New Yorker, he called again, and things sort of progressed from there.”
An unofficial announcement has been making the rounds, as first reported by The Architect’s Newspaper, and Mr. Carter praises his latest acquisition as unparalleled, according to a copy obtained by The Observer. “This is an appointment that thrills me profoundly,” Mr. Carter says in the release. “Paul is about as gifted a commentator on architecture, urban planning and design as anyone you’re going to find these days—in other words, he’s just a brilliant writer.” An interview request to Vanity Fair was not immediately returned.
While Mr. Goldberger acknowledged he will miss The New Yorker in some ways, he said it was his decision to leave the magazine, in part so that he would have more time to tackle a biography of Frank Gehry. He said he is very much looking forward to the new possibilities presented by his new publication, for which he has written in the past, “on a one-off basis” starting five years ago. His first effort was a profile of Ralph Lauren, followed by one of Robert A.M. Stern, who had just finished his magisterial 15 Central Park West. (Mr. Goldberger is quick to point out that he reviewed the building for The New Yorker before he wrote about it for the in-house rival.)
“Graydon’s eager to do a broad range of things on design and I’m excited to be doing that,” Mr. Goldberger said. “And I’m not being coy, we haven’t figured out exactly what the parameters are yet, but there will certainly be stories that are design-oriented, not strictly architecture.”
That eagerness is not a small reason for Mr. Goldberger decision to leave The New Yorker for Vanity Fair. “David has, I think it’s fair to say, mixed feelings about the architecture column,” Mr. Goldberger said of New Yorker editor David Remnick. It is a complaint he has aired before, most recently at a panel hosted by the New York chapter of the American Institute of Architects. Getting stories into a magazine, especially one that has shrunk considerably in size over the past decade, has become more and more difficult.