2019 Keynote Speakers

Sarah Williams Goldhagen

One of the nation’s chief architecture critics reveals how the environments we build profoundly shape our feelings, memories, and well-being, and argues that we must harness this knowledge to construct a world better suited to human experience.

Taking us on a fascinating journey through some of the world’s best and worst landscapes, buildings, and cityscapes, Sarah Williams Goldhagen draws from recent research in cognitive neuroscience and psychology to demonstrate how people’s experiences of the places they build are central to their well-being, their physical health, their communal and social lives, and even their very sense of themselves. From this foundation, Goldhagen presents a powerful case that societies must use this knowledge to rethink what and how they build: the world needs better-designed, healthier environments that address the complex range of human individual and social needs.

By 2050 America’s population is projected to increase by nearly seventy million people. This will necessitate a vast amount of new construction—almost all in urban areas—that will dramatically transform our existing landscapes, infrastructure, and urban areas. Going forward, we must do everything we can to prevent the construction of exhausting, overstimulating environments and enervating, understimulating ones. Buildings, landscapes, and cities must both contain and spark associations of natural light, greenery, and other ways of being in landscapes that humans have evolved to need and expect. Fancy exteriors and dramatic forms are never enough, and may not even be necessary; authentic textures and surfaces, and careful, well-executed construction details are just as important.

About Sarah Williams Goldhagen

Architecture and landscapes, cities and urban design, infrastructure and public art — all these constitute the built environment. That’s what I write about. The things of the world that outlast us. For me, also, writing well, and authenticity of voice matters.

My interests range widely. My new book, Welcome to Your World, explores how, precisely, people experience built environments and how they shape our lives. It draws from current scientific research on cognition to demonstrate the centrality of design to well-being. I’ve also written other books, more historical in their approach and subject matter, on the great American architect, Louis Kahn, and on Postwar Modernism.

Between books, I’ve published a raft of essays for scholarly and general audiences. Currently I’m a contributing editor at Art in America and Architectural Record; before that, I was the New Republic’s architecture critic for many years. Other publications I’ve written for include the New York Times, the Chronicle of Higher EducationDesign Observer, the Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians.

Talking about my ideas in public settings is something I’ve always enjoyed. I’ve lectured around the world at colleges, universities, museums and other venues on a wide range of topics pertaining to buildings, landscapes, and people.

Before devoting myself full-time to writing, I taught for ten years at Harvard’s Graduate School of Design, and at some other colleges and universities. I liked teaching, but I like writing better.