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PAUL RUDOLPH
 
 
 
 
  Name Paul Marvin Rudolph
     
  Born October 23, 1918
     
  Died August 8, 1997
     
  Nationality USA
     
  School  
     
  Official website paulrudolph.org
     
 
BIOGRAPHY
   

The American architect Paul Marvin Rudolph is best known for his large-scale, roughsurfaced concrete buildings of the 1960s. His architecture, inspired by the postwar work of Le Corbusier and Frank Lloyd Wright, is often confused with the Brutalism practiced by the Smithsons and theorized by Reyner Banham. Along with Eero Saarinen, Philip Johnson, Edward Durell Stone, and Minoru Yamasaki, Rudolph rejected functionalism in favor of a highly expressionist architecture based on historical precedents. He turned away from the Bauhaus-derived values that he had learned from Walter Gropius at Harvard University’s Graduate School of Design in an attempt to reconcile Wright and Le Corbusier to produce a monumental, urban architecture. Rudolph’s architecture is one of the most complete expressions of the humanistic and often heroic ambitions of postwar American architecture.

During the late 1950s and early 1960s, Rudolph was internationally acclaimed as one of the most imaginative heirs to the first generation of modernists. He was widely emulated for his boldly graphic drawing style, which emphasized the section, and for the rugged surfaces of his buildings. Rudolph accomplished a great deal in a short period of time, but by the early 1970s his highly ambitious works had fallen out of favor with the rise of Postmodernism, and he received little notice afterward.

As chairman of Yale University’s architecture department (1958–65), Rudolph made it one of the most important American architectural schools of the decade. He was well regarded as a teacher, attracted top students, and fostered an Anglo-American axis that introduced such important figures to the United States as James Sterling, Colin St. John Wilson, and the Smithsons to serve as critics and teachers at Yale. Most remarkably, he was the architect of his own school, Yale’s Art and Architecture Building (1958–64), which is among the most controversial of the large-scale concrete buildings of the 1960s.

Born in 1918 in the small town of Elkton, Kentucky, to the family of a Methodist minister, Rudolph spent his formative years not far from the public works projects of the Tennessee Valley Authority in the mountainous region where Alabama, Kentucky, and Tennessee intersect. He excelled in music and art. A formative experience was seeing Frank Lloyd Wright’s Usonian Rosenbaum House (1939) in Florence, Alabama. As an undergraduate from 1935 to 1940, Rudolph studied architecture at the Alabama Polytechnic Institute (now known as Auburn University), where he received a BeauxArts education and first noted the potential that the regional buildings of the Deep South had for modern architecture. Rudolph’s talents were recognized, and he received a scholarship from Harvard’s Graduate School of Design, newly reorganized under Joseph Hudnot and Walter Gropius.

Before matriculating at Harvard in 1941, in 1939 Rudolph journeyed south to see Wright’s Florida Southern College in Lakeland, Florida, which would inform many of his later campus designs. In Florida, Rudolph met Ralph Twitchell, an architect who was building beach houses in nearby Sarasota based on Wright’s Usonian designs. Rudolph worked briefly with Twitchell before leaving for Harvard in the fall of 1941. There, he studied under Walter Gropius and Konrad Wachsman and made the acquaintance of students who would become his life-long colleagues, such as I.M. Pei and, most significant, Philip Johnson.

Rudolph spent most of World War II supervising ship construction in the Brooklyn Navy Yards, where he recognized the significance of the new wartime materials and developed his unique drawing style. After the war, Rudolph completed his degree in just one semester (1947), traveled to Europe on a prestigious Wheelwright Fellowship (1948– 49) from Harvard, and entered into a partnership with Ralph Twitchell in Florida. In Sarasota, Rudolph’s design talents complemented Twitchell’s salesmanship to produce between 20 and 30 eloquent, structurally expressive beach houses. These houses received international attention, mainly because of Rudolph’s innovative graphic presentation. His pen-and-ink chiaroscuro-like style was instantly recognizable and easily reproduced in architectural journals. Twitchell and Rudolph’s best-known house was the Cocoon, or Healey Guest House (1948), which used cocoon—a preservative plastic spray used to mothball ships in the Brooklyn Navy Yards—to create a dramatic catenary roof.

Always intensely individualistic, Rudolph began his own practice in 1952. At the same time, he renounced Gropius’s concept of “teamwork” and the functionalism that he had been taught at Harvard. He lectured extensively in architecture schools throughout the United States and soon formulated a philosophy that reacted against functionalism in favor of the expressionism that he would adhere to for life. In his 1956 lecture and article, “The Six Determinants of Architectural Form,” Rudolph said that in addition to function, architects should consider the importance of environment (by which he meant surroundings rather than a concern for nature), regionalism, materials, psychology, and spirit of the times.

An early advocate of urbanism, Rudolph attempted to integrate his buildings into the preexisting conditions of the site, as in his first major public commission, the Mary Cooper Jewett Arts Center (1958) in Wellesley, Massachusetts. His early efforts were often classed with the formalist or eclectic work of Philip Johnson, Minoru Yamasaki, and Edward Durell Stone. The Jewett Center featured screens in the manner of Stone and received widespread acclaim for the sensitive manner in which it dealt with the problem of inserting a modern structure into a historic campus. Before the project was completed, Rudolph was named chairman of Yale’s architecture department at the age of 39. Soon after, Rudolph received the commission for Yale’s Art and Architecture Building (1958–64), a building that would unite the teaching of the arts in one monumental structure in fulfillment of many of Rudolph’s developing ideas about urbanism. The building was a monumental gateway marking the western edge of the campus. It was the culmination of a processional that led the pedestrian from the New Haven Green past Yale’s earlier arts building, among them Louis Kahn’s Yale University Art Gallery (1955). The rough-edged, corduroy-like exterior was achieved by first pouring the concrete into forms and then breaking the ridged edges with a bush hammer to create an irregular outline that would cast an ever-changing play of shadows across the facade. Although it was similar to Le Corbusier’s beton brut, this method was actually derived from the precisely rendered parallel lines in Rudolph’s pen-and-ink drawings. The building resembled both Le Corbusier’s La Tourette (1955) and Wright’s then recently demolished Larkin Building (1903).

However, in violation of the established norms of modernism, the labyrinthine interior seemed to have little relation to the exterior. The 36 or so different levels were arranged in a pinwheel-like form around two double-height central spaces containing a drafting room and jury pit. The building was topped by a glamorous penthouse that housed visiting lecturers and critics overnight. The sublimely gloomy, cavernous interior spaces disconcerted many who thought that they were more like a glimpse into the maker’s unconscious than a rational design for a school for the arts. Rudolph carpeted the building in a startling bright orange and decorated the interior with works of art, including a curtain by the abstract expressionist artist Willem de Kooning.

Critics such as Nikolaus Pevsner, who still upheld the Bauhaus as the norm, warned students in a dedication speech not to emulate so individualistic a building. Charles Jencks labeled the building “camp”—the exaggerated homosexual style first theorized by Susan Sontag in her 1961 essay, “Notes on ‘Camp.’”

Camp, however, was precisely the point. With its intricate interiors and decorative use of Beaux-Arts plaster casts and ornamental fragments from demolished Louis Sullivan buildings, the interior of the building can be interpreted as a product of the homosexual camp, also practiced by Philip Johnson at this time, that reacted against the normative conditions enforced by postwar modernism and society. Most remarkably, the roughedged concrete surfaces found both inside and out gave the building an aura of aggression that had as much to do with the hypermasculinization of postwar homosexual culture (e.g. the interest in bodybuilding and male figures of rebellion, such as James Dean and Marlon Brando) as it did with anything found in the culture of architecture. Vincent Scully said that the roughened surfaces were sadomasochistic. “The building repels touch: it hurts you if you try,” he wrote in Architectural Review in 1964. Rudolph intended his surfaces to be a statement in favor of decoration and expression—qualities long repressed by the Modern movement—and against the alienation and corporate conformity of the slick, glass-walled structures of the International Style.

Although it was soon called “Brutalist,” the building’s highly aestheticized values were in fact the diametric opposite of the British Brutalism practiced by the Smithsons. In fact, Banham said that the Art and Architecture building had nothing to do with his definition of Brutalism. The building was actually the culmination of the monumental, heroic humanism of the 1950s practiced in the United States. It was the final project of Yale President A.Whitney Griswold’s campaign to create for Yale a museum of modern architecture with buildings by Eero Saarinen, Philip Johnson, and others that would defend the liberal arts against the sciences and mass culture.

The accidental burning of the building in 1969 at the height of student unrest and the apocrypha that this has generated has unfortunately overshadowed Rudolph’s other achievements. Leaving Yale in 1965 for private practice, Rudolph began a series of campus buildings and master plans in a similar vein, among them the Charles Dana Arts Center (1963–66) at Colgate University in Hamilton, New York; the chapel and master plan for the Tuskegee Institute (1958–69) in Tuskegee, Alabama; the Boston Government Services Center (1962–71); and the master plan for a campus that he regarded as the most complete expression of his ideas: the University of Massachusetts (1963–72) in Dartmouth. An idea for which Rudolph is rarely given credit was the development of a rough-surfaced, mass-produced concrete block ubiquitous in American construction during the 1970s that economically imitated the effects of his bush hammer construction.

By the early 1970s, Rudolph’s monumental projects had fallen out of favor with clients who thought that they were expensive and impractical and with a younger generation that now saw them as representing the Establishment. A casualty of state politics, the University of Massachusetts campus was taken away from Rudolph and completed by others, and the Boston Government Services Center—intended to house the health, education, and welfare bureaucracy of the Great Society—was never completed. This virtual ruin became a symbol of the demise of the liberal idealism of the 1960s after the political and economic disarray of the early 1970s. The chorus of critical voices that had begun to turn against Rudolph culminated with the publication in 1972 of Robert Venturi, Steven Izenour, and Denise Scott Brown’s unfavorable comparison in Learning from Las Vegas between his Crawford Manor Housing for the Elderly (1962–66) in New Haven, Connecticut, and Venturi and Rauch’s Guild House (1960–63) in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Ironically, Rudolph had hired Venturi to teach at Yale, and there were many similarities between their ideas.

During the 1970s and 1980s, Rudolph returned to practicing architecture in an austere, almost 19th-century atelier-like environment. He maintained rigorous control of his drawings as the key to his creativity and produced two important private works: the Bass House (1970–72) in Fort Worth, Texas, a large villa that combined elements of Wright’s Fallingwater with the lightweight architecture of the 1920s and 1930s, and his own multilevel private penthouse apartment (1977–97) on Manhattan’s Beekman Place, a sybaritic fun house of multiple layers and transparent Plexiglas surfaces derived from his drawing methods and designed to accommodate his roving, homoerotic gaze.

In the 1980s, Rudolph embarked on an ambitious new career in Southeast Asia as the designer of a series of startling sculptural skyscrapers in Hong Kong, Singapore, and Jakarta. These buildings were infrequently published and seen by few in the West, thus giving rise to the myth that Rudolph was inactive. By the late 1980s, however, Rudolph had developed a devoted following among critics such as Michael Sorkin, who saw Rudolph as the last holdout against Postmodernism at a time when many of his contemporaries had turned their backs on their modernist past. Few acknowledged that Rudolph’s reaction against functionalism and the International Style had in fact informed Postmodernism, particularly the branch theorized by Venturi.

Rudolph died in 1997 just at the moment when his architecture was undergoing a reappraisal by subsequent generations. He left behind a remarkably varied group of students in the United States and Britain who have become the leading practitioners of the last quarter of the century: Stanley Tigerman, Robert A.M.Stern, Charles Gwathmey, Der Scutt, Sir Norman Foster, and Richard Rogers.

TIMOTHY M.ROHAN

 

 
 
 
 
 
 
TIMELINE
   

23 October 1918 Born in Elkton, Kentucky, USA, the son of a Methodist minister;

1935–40 Attended Alabama Polytechnic Institute (now Auburn University) ;

fall 1941 studied under Walter Gropius at the Graduate School of Design, Harvard University; War years were spent as a lieutenant supervising ship construction in the Brooklyn Navy Yards;

1947 Returned to Harvard and received master’s degree ;

1948–49 Winner of a Harvard Wheelwright Fellowship for travel ;

1952–97 Independent practice;

1958–65 Chairman Yale University’s School of Architecture ; pupils included Stanley Tigerman, Robert A.M.Stern, Charles Gwathmey, Der Scutt, Sir Norman Foster, and Richard Rogers. Partners with Ralph Twitchell, Sarasota, Florida;

8 August 1997 Died in New York, USA.

 

 
 
 
 
 
 
FURTHER READING
   

Banham, Reyner, New Brutalism: Ethic or Aesthetic? New York: Reinhold, 1966 Jencks, Charles, Modern Movements in Architecture, New York: Anchor, 1973; 2nd edition, London and New York: Penguin, 1985 Paul Rudolph: Drawings for the Art and Architecture Building at Yale, 1959–1963 (exhib. cat.), New Haven, Connecticut: Yale School of Architecture, 1988 Pevsner, Nikolaus, “Address Given at the Opening of the Yale School of Art and Architecture, 1963” in Studies in Art, Architecture, and Design, by Pevsner, volume 2, Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, New York: Walker, and London: Thames and Hudson, 1968; as Studies in Art, Architecture, and Design: Victorian and After, Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, and London: Thames and Hudson, 1982 Scully, Vincent, “Art and Architecture Building, Yale University,” The Architectural Review, 135 (May 1964) Smith, Charles R., Paul Rudolph and Louis Kahn: A Bibliography, Metuchen, New Jersey, and London: Scarecrow Press, 1987 Sorkin, Michael, “The Invisible Man” in Exquisite Corpse: Writings on Buildings, by Sorkin, London and New York: Verso, 1991 Stern, Robert A.M., “Yale, 1950–1965,” Oppositions, 4 (October 1974) Stoller, Ezra, The Yale Art and Architecture Building, New York: Princeton Architectural Books, 1999 Venturi, Robert, Denise Scott Brown, and Steven Izenour, Learning from Las Vegas, Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press, 1972

Selected Publications

“Walter Gropius—the Spread of an Idea,” L’architecture d’aujourd’hui (February 1950) (special issue devoted to the work of Gropius and his students in the United States) “The Six Determinants of Architectural Form,” Architectural Record 120 (October 1956) The Architecture of Paul Rudolph, with introduction by Sibyl Moholy-Nagy, captions by Gerhard Schwab, and comments by Paul Rudolph, 1970 “From Conception to Sketch to Rendering to Building” in Paul Rudolph: Architectural Drawings, edited by Yukio Futagawa, 1972

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