Call it a high-stakes game of Red Rover: The New Yorker's influential architecture critic Paul Goldberger is leaving for that other Conde Nast property in the sky, Vanity Fair, and it's causing a bit of a stir.
Arguably the leading figure in architecture criticism, Goldberger split his career between the two historical arbiters of the field: The New York Times, where Goldberger won a Pulitzer, and The New Yorker, where there are no reports he will be replaced. According to The Observer (smaller but keen-eyed other fish in the Manhattan media bowl), his exit from the latter is a bigger deal than just paperwork at the Conde Nast HR office. We're talking the End Of Things big. Oh yes!
In a hefty insidery piece titled "With Paul Goldberger Leaving for Vanity Fair, Is This the End of Architecture Criticism at The New Yorker?," Matt Chaban answers his headlining question with the sad results of a little online digging over at The New Yorker's classic Sky Line column, resurrected by Goldberger in 1997 after a half-century hiatus:
"There has not been a single Sky Line column since September 19 of last year, followed by two blog posts over the next week, and nothing since. Of the 14 pieces written last year, out of a total of 178 (according to The New Yorker‘s online archive) over a 15 year career, only six made it into the magazine—five columns and one Talk piece. Never mind that when you google either “architecture critic” or “architecture criticism,” Mr. Goldberger’s author page at The New Yorker is the second result, after Wikipedia."
The dry spell isn't limited to The New Yorker. Writing at his personal blog in March of this year, architect and former Slate critic Witold Rybczynski positioned his bunking from Slate in line with a slacking off of architecture criticism across the board:
"The New York Times has a “chief architecture critic” who hardly ever writes about architecture. Paul Goldberger, our leading critic, has not appeared in the New Yorker since May 2011, and that was a piece about New York taxis. I always check to see what Sarah Williams Goldhagen, the interesting critic of The New Republic, has to say, and she hasn’t posted anything since November 2011...I don’t know whether it’s the recession and dearth of new buildings, or whether after the boom years, when architecture became faddish, the fad has simply faded."
As for Goldberger's work at Vanity Fair, it promises to be a departure from pure architecture criticism. In the release announcing his hiring, VF editor Graydon Carter placed Goldberger's strengths in the fields of "architecture, urban planning, and design." Alongside his pragmatic reasoning for the move (Goldberger needs more time to work on his biography of Frank Gehry, and the VF position offers him that), Goldberger told The Observer to expect "stories that are design-oriented, not strictly architecture," and said he's "excited to be doing that." Purists may as well start tolling the bells and steeling themselves for more investigations of "Ralph Lauren's vision of Wasp perfection," the crux of an old one-off Goldberger wrote for Vanity Fair in 2007 that for all its diversions from the science of architecture, is a pretty fun read.