Sarah Williams Goldhagen is a leading figure in the understanding and interpretation of modern and contemporary architecture. Scholar, critic, teacher, and advisor, Goldhagen is deeply committed to enhancing the intellectual, aesthetic, and social lives of people by shaping people's understanding of the built environment as well as its design. Believing that architecture, landscape architecture, and urban design demands and deserves multifaceted, high-level, and accessible analysis and explication, she addresses designers and the broader public with intellectually sophisticated, linguistically clear writing. As The New Republic's architecture critic, she writes in-depth essays addressing critical themes in the built environment while relating them to broader cultural, social, and political developments. In her more specialized scholarly writing, she attempts gives shape to or reformulates, as the case may be, the theories and frameworks we use to understand modern and contemporary architecture. As a professor at Harvard's Design School, she helped shape how a generation of designers and scholars understand the intertwined historical, social, and aesthetic dimensions of modern architecture. In her work as an architectural advisor, she promotes the design and construction of architecturally distinguished buildings that will serve the clients and the public at large.
Goldhagen's current book (to be published by HarperCollins) draws on many disciplines to explore how cities, buildings, landscapes, and public spaces shape our individual and collective, our private and social lives. Such an understanding will help the broader public acquire the knowledge to demand, and the language to advocate for an improved physical world. Designers will also come to appreciate that their work influences people's individual and collective lives in many more, and in much more profound, ways than their education currently leads them to think; thus the book promises also to shed new light and set new agendas for contemporary design.
Goldhagen's scholarly writings and criticism, which are often widely reproduced and commented upon, cover a considerable range of topics: high architecture and vernacular architecture; architecture, urbanism, and landscape; the nature and trajectories of twentieth-century modernism and critical issues in contemporary architecture and urbanism; broad themes at the intersection of the built environment and economics and politics, such as infrastructure, great urban parks, and prefabricated housing, and focused critical analyses of the work of modern and contemporary designers, including Alvar Aalto, Santiago Calatrava, Rem Koolhaas, Thom Mayne, Enric Miralles, Oscar Niemeyer, Jean Nouvel, Moshe Safdie, Mack Scogin and Merrell Elam, Josep Lluis Sert, Alison and Peter Smithson, and Peter Zumthor.
Goldhagen is author of Louis Kahn's Situated Modernism (Yale, 2001), which explores how Kahn's exquisite buildings were shaped by his social and political concerns as well as his responses to contemporary trends in postwar art and architecture. She edited a study of postwar modernism, Anxious Modernisms: Experimentation in Postwar Architectural Culture (MIT, 2001), to which she contributed several essays, including "Coda: Reconceptualizing the Modern," that redrew the contours of the postwar period as being far more diverse and interesting architecturally than it had previously been thought. Her essays and articles have appeared, in addition to The New Republic, in many publications, including the Chronicle of Higher Education, Design Observer, the Harvard Design Magazine, The New York Times, The American Prospect, and the Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians. She has been profiled and interviewed in major newspapers and magazines.
Before deciding to devote herself full-time to writing, Goldhagen was, for ten years, a professor at Harvard's Design School. She has also taught at the Departments of Art at Wellesley College and Vassar College, and at the School of Architecture at the University of Texas at Austin. Goldhagen lectures nationally and internationally on twentieth-century and contemporary architecture and urbanism; she recently co-founded a scholarly journal, Positions: On Modern Architecture and Urbanism/ Histories and Theories; she consults and advises clients, having been most notably the advisor to the architect selection committee that eventually chose Diller+Scofidio to design the renowned Institute of Contemporary Art in Boston; and she serves on the Boards of the Society of Architectural Historians and ArchitectureBoston.