Focus on architecture and media at NU-Q: Part 2

November 11, 2011

Paul Goldberger on Doha’s architecture challenges

In the face of ever-expanding city limits, Doha’s greatest challenge is to build a real urban fabric and do away with the notion of buildings as isolated floating islands, critically-acclaimed author Paul Goldberger said during a special talk at Northwestern University in Qatar.

The New Yorker architecture critic and Pulitzer Prize-winning author Paul Goldberger shared his views on Doha's architecture in a public interview with dean of Northwestern University in Qatar, Dr. Everette E. Dennis.

Part of this challenge, said The New Yorker architecture critic and Pulitzer Prize-winning author, is the limited times of year and hours of the day suitable for walking in the city.  “When there’s an actual incentive to walk, there’s the sense that everything is part of the larger whole,” Goldberger noted on Tuesday, November 1st in the public-interview-format discussion led by Dr. Everette E. Dennis, dean of Northwestern University in Qatar.

The well-received talk was one in a series of events designed to bring Northwestern’s excellence in liberal arts education to Qatar.

Art historian Jesús Escobar also spoke at the university in recent days and, like Goldberger, addressed issues involved in communicating about architecture as part of knowing and understanding one’s environment. “Doha’s extraordinary architecture provides a laboratory for our students to observe their surroundings as a visual statement and as a story tracking change in a dynamic and evolving city,” said NU-Q Dean Everette Dennis.

Continuing his discussion of Doha’s architecture, Goldberger added, “Those parts of the Gulf that have experienced rapid growth in the last 20 years tend to have a look similar to recent cities in other parts of the world –These places were so small [and grew so quickly] that they didn’t have a strong urban fabric to build upon…not even a master plan.”

The hurdle is one facing many growing cities around the world, especially those that have taken shape in the late 20th and early 21st centuries. Time, Goldberger concedes, plays its own role in shaping a city.

“For all that we like to think that geography and culture play a huge role in architecture and urbanism, I’m not sure that time doesn’t play an even more powerful role… you know, the age in which a place grows up.”

In advice to students on writing about architecture, Goldberger emphasized a critic’s responsibility to be as direct and conclusive as possible- admitting to having written a negative piece about IM PEI’s Louvre project in Paris when it was first announced. He has since recognized the error in his assessment.

Architecture, he noted, is a powerful setting for one’s personal and work life, and has an inextricable emotional component.

“So listen to that voice inside of yourself. Your own sensibility is very important,” said Goldberger.

Goldberger was visiting Doha to deliver the opening keynote address at the 4th biennial Hamad Bin Khalifa Symposium on Islamic Art held recently at the Museum of Islamic Arts and sponsored by Virginia Commonwealth University in Qatar and others.