Where realism misses; On the Rise: Architecture and Design in a Postmodern Age, by Paul Goldberger. New York: Times Books. 340 pp. $19.95
''On the Rise,'' a republication of 80 essays selected from those Paul Goldberger wrote as architecture critic for the New York Times from 1974 to 1983 , manifests an attitude toward architecture shaped more by a determination to evaluate than to reveal.
The role of the architecture critic, Goldberger tells us, ''is to evaluate works of design realistically, harshly, and honestly.'' While he concedes that there is a didactic obligation as well, the essays confirm that Goldberger's chief concern is the evaluation (sometimes harsh, always, presumably, honest) of the ''reality'' of the urban milieu, as opposed to the revelation of the ''ideality'' (the art) of architecture itself.
Goldberger contends that the demise of modernist dogma and the rise of postmodern pluralism (the philosophy that reality has its essence or ultimate being in several or many principles) constitutes the unifying idea of his compilation.
Goldberger correctly identifies the motivating artistic force of the period; his own notion of realism, however, is more accurately the thematic link among these disparate essays. He says that ''architecture is . . . where issues of public policy meet questions of esthetics'' and that ''each and every building is the product of numerous forces - economic, social, cultural, political, functional, esthetic - and must be evaluated in terms of how well it has responded to these forces.''
The majority of Goldberger's essays are on urban planning (or nonplanning), including problems such as zoning, density, and identity in cities such as Denver, New Orleans, and Paris. Yet very few of the key architects, buildings, and ideas intrinsic to the artistic unfoldment of architecture since the early 1970s are identified or discussed.
Goldberger employs empty evaluative terms such as ''handsome,'' ''successful, '' and ''rampant good taste.'' He does not impel us to think deeply about a building's appearance and substance, or even to think at all. Goldberger tries to describe the forest; he never really reveals the trees.