Episode 213 – Sarah Williams Goldhagen


Virtual Memories Show 213:
Sarah Williams Goldhagen

“The built environment is not inert. It’s an active agent in the shaping of people’s lives.”

Why are our buildings crushing our quality of life? Sarah Williams Goldhagen joins the show to talk about her new book, Welcome to Your World (Harper), and how we can live in a better built environment. We get into cognitive neuroscience and the theory of mind-body-environment consciousness, the perils of lowest-common-denominator construction and design, the perils of the “starchitect” phenomenon, the limits of Jane Jacobs’ urban proscriptions, the experience of going on urban planning vacations as a kid with her dad, how she and her family wound up living in a converted church in East Harlem, the challenges of architecture criticism, how her book was predicted by one of my favorite 1980s comics, the planning process a year-long around-the-world trip, and more! Give it a listen! And go buy Welcome to Your World!

“It’s all architecture, and it all needs to be as well-designed as you can make it. And at any level of investment, you can make a better building or a worse building.”

Enjoy the conversation! Then check out the archives for more great episodes!

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About our Guest

Sarah Williams Goldhagen taught at Harvard University’s Graduate School of Design for ten years and was the New Republic‘s architecture critic until recently. Currently a contributing editor at Art in America and Architectural Record, she is an award-winning writer who has written about buildings, cities and landscapes for many national and international publications, including the New York Times, The American Prospect, and Harvard Design Magazine. She lives in New York City. (There’s a more extensive bio at her site.)

Credits: This episode’s music is Nothing’s Gonna Bring Me Down by David Baerwald, used with permission from the artist. The conversation was recorded at Sarah’s home on a pair of Blue enCORE 200 Microphones feeding into a Zoom H5 digital recorder. I recorded the intro and outro on a Heil PR-40 Dynamic Studio Recording Microphone feeding into a Cloudlifter CL-1 and a Mackie Onyx Blackjack 2×2 USB Recording Interface. All processing and editing done in Adobe Audition CC. Photo of Sarah by me. It’s on my instagram.

Notes from Vegas: White Stripes

Last night, I took my car out to the In-N-Out Burger on Tropicana Blvd. Rather than return via I-15, I decided to drive down the strip, starting around Circus Circus and the MGM Grand. My hotel is at the far end of the strip, near the Space Needle building, the Stratosphere, and my conference is nowhere near the strip, so this was likely the only opportunity I’d get to drive through and try to pick up some impressions. I’m still working on processing it all, but I’m having a tough time of it.

I arrived in Vegas on a Saturday evening once, and the cab ride to my hotel was impossible due to strip-traffic. This time, there wasn’t much volume. I chalk it up to Monday night slowdown, rather than fiscalpocalypse.

The funny thing about having a car on this trip is that I never drove in Vegas before, so I never noticed that the streets don’t have stripes painted to demarcate the lanes. They have little raised reflectors, but no white lines. (This made my drive in from the airport — in which I had a blinding headache and the sun was just a few minutes from descending behind the mountains — kinda frightening.)

Anyway, the reason I’m writing is because I passed the City Center project during this trip. It consists of a bunch of sleek towers and a big-ass mall. I saw it around 18 months earlier during this trip. It’s been in the news lately because of financing problems; a fund in Dubai doesn’t want to cover to giant cost overruns in order to finish a luxury hotel/condo/casino/mall complex at a time when no one has money.

After seeing the silly jagged multi-planar design for the front (mall) of the Center, I’m hoping they pulled out after developing taste. Here’s an interview with the architect of this grotesquerie, Daniel Liebeskind, on how to rethink a mall or something.


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