Alan Goldberg, FAIA, BArch ’54
44 years loyal
In the summer of 1949, Alan Goldberg, FAIA, BArch ’54, literally took flight. He hopped aboard an airplane for the first time and headed to St. Louis to study architecture at Washington University. At the architecture school, Goldberg learned the fundamentals of building and design from supportive professors who challenged him to produce his best work. He also fell in love with St. Louis and one particular local student, his future wife, Trudy.
After graduating, Goldberg had an accomplished career as an architect. He was part of the team assembled by Mies van der Rohe and Philip Johnson to design the Seagram’s Building in New York, and he worked with Eliot Noyes at his multidisciplinary design studio in New Canaan, Connecticut. Upon Noyes’s death, Goldberg led the firm’s architectural practice, later known as AG/ENA. Now retired, he appreciates the well-rounded education he received at the architecture school, where he was honored with a Distinguished Alumni Award in 2004. Goldberg made his first gift to WashU in 1978, and he hopes to open up opportunities for the next generation of architecture students by participating in the Annual Fund and supporting scholarships in the Sam Fox School of Design & Visual Arts. He recently furthered his scholarship commitment with an estate bequest.
What drew you to study architecture at Washington University?
The story of how I ended up at WashU is a little unusual. I knew I wanted to be an architect by the time I was six years old. I had hoped to attend college in California, but my father thought it was too far away. So we set a map of the United States on the floor and started to put dots where there were architecture schools. In 1949, there weren’t many, and my father insisted whichever school I chose be accredited by the state of New York. As I worked my way east across the map, WashU was the first architecture school to fit the bill.
At the time, it wasn’t enough to just apply to architecture school. You also had to take a special spatial relations exam. After I passed, my dad handed me a plane ticket. Air travel was much rarer then. I was the first person in my family to fly in an airplane, and my first flight was to St. Louis. Obviously, I had never seen WashU’s campus before. I didn’t even have a place to stay because most of the dorms were occupied by veterans returning from World War II, so I ended up living off campus.
What inspired you to make your first gift to WashU?
I’ve been really fortunate in life. My experience at WashU and living in St. Louis helped shape my life. But I realize not everyone has the same opportunities and good fortune as I’ve had, and I wanted to do my part. My wife is an activist—she’s busy saving the world. I just wanted to save a few people!
As an architect, I know what young architecture students have to go through to get an education. There are so many talented students who aren’t given the chance to grow their talents, and I thought my gift could help support them. That’s why giving to scholarships is especially meaningful to me.
Why do you believe it is important for alumni to give to WashU year after year?
To young people, schools are just names. As a prospective student, it’s important to understand what a university like WashU can offer. And as a WashU donor, you can share your WashU experience with incoming students. Your giving sends a message to others while also benefitting the university and its students. Whatever you can give helps.
You made an estate bequest to the university. What motivated you to deepen your WashU support in this way?
I started giving a modest amount to architecture scholarships about 10 years ago. I then decided to take the next step by endowing a scholarship in architecture. I believe my estate commitment will make an even greater impact on architecture students with financial need.
What was your experience like as a WashU student?
At WashU, I received a good grounding in architecture. The program itself was changing. It had been more of a Beaux-Arts school but began to embrace modern architecture and the Bauhaus. The faculty were approachable and had great relationships with their students. As teachers, George Kassabaum and Edouard Mutrux were incredibly nurturing when there wasn’t always much to nurture. They never tried to change a student’s work. Instead, they encouraged us to make our designs as strong as possible.
WashU set me on the right path. I also met my wife while I was a WashU student. She grew up in University City and lived across the street from my off-campus apartment. We’ve known each other for 73 years now.
What is your favorite spot on campus or in St. Louis?
Coming from New York, I enjoyed city life, particularly the diverse neighborhoods and wonderful restaurants, the arts and sports scenes, and Forest Park. Because I had a car, I was also able to explore the Ozarks and various architectural attractions in the Midwest.
Overall, I loved St. Louis and became part of the community as an undergraduate. I was drafted into the army after I graduated, but I didn’t have to report until the fall. I went to work for the city’s planning department and spent the entire summer walking every street in St. Louis updating zoning maps
What have you been up to since graduating?
After college, I served two years during the Korean War in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. After I was discharged, I returned to New York and ran into an architect on the subway whom I had worked for in high school. I ended up joining his firm, which was a big practice—solid but very commercial. I gained a good foundation in how to build a building, but it was not the right environment for a young architect with vision.
After a decade in New York, I moved to New Canaan, Connecticut, to join Eliot Noyes & Associates, an internationally known, multidisciplinary design firm. We designed everything from graphics and interiors to industrial products, all within a studio setting. I learned how to be an architect and that modernism is more than a style. It is an approach to life.
Over the years, my wife and I also developed a passion for Mexican folk art. We began traveling to Mexico City in 1962, learning about the culture and the people and buying folk art. We accumulated over 1,000 pieces and recently donated our collection to the Smithsonian-affiliated Mexican Museum in San Francisco. I continue to use my skills and experience in architecture to curate, write, and publish, and I even produced a short feature film.