The American architect Paul Rudolph (born 1918) sought to integrate into modern architecture a spatial drama, a concern for urbanism, and an individuality which he found lacking in his training under Walter Gropius.
The son of a Methodist minister, Paul Marvin Rudolph was born on October 28, 1918, in Elkton, Kentucky. He attended the architecture school at the Alabama Polytechnic Institute in Auburn, and after graduating in 1940 he entered the Harvard Graduate School of Design, where he studied under Walter Gropius, the former head of the Bauhaus in Germany. Rudolph's graduate studies were interrupted by a period of service as an officer in the U.S. Navy (1943-1946). He supervised ship construction in the Brooklyn Navy Yard, which provided a valuable learning experience in executing large building tasks within a bureaucracy. After receiving his master's degree from Harvard in 1947, he spent the next year traveling in Europe (on a Wheelwright Scholarship), where he began to develop a strong interest in urban design, a subject which he felt had been neglected in his education under Gropius.
Starting on a Small Scale, and Building
In 1948 Rudolph formed a partnership with Ralph Twitchell in Sarasota, Florida. On the modest scales of guest houses, Rudolph began to explore the lessons he had learned at Harvard. In such early works as his Healy Guest House (1949) in Siesta Key, Sarasota, the functions are carefully accommodated while the innovative structure (a centenary curved roof held in tension) is clearly articulated. However, during the 1950s he began to rebel against Gropius' teachings. Rudolph ended his partnership with Twitchell in 1952 and totally rejected Gropius' ideal of teamwork. Rudolph preferred a more personal and artistic approach to architecture. He also felt limited by Gropius' emphasis on function and structure. Through the siting, massing, silhouette, scale, and even decoration of Rudolph's first major building, the Jewett Arts Center (1955-1958) at Wellesley College in Massachusetts, he attempted to respond to the broader environmental context of the existing campus of collegiate gothic buildings. He also began to explore a richer approach to the spaces of architecture, as defined by planes rather than by linear structure, in such works as his Sarasota High School (1958-1959) in Florida.
Rise to Prominence
By attempting to expand the language and responsibilities of modern architecture, Rudolph quickly rose to prominence. From 1958 to 1965 he was chairman of the School of Architecture at Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut, where he built his most famous and controversial work, the Art and Architecture Building (1958-1964). This structure responded to its urban context by dramatically turning the corner on which it stands. It was also designed to allow for future expansion, since Rudolph believed that architects should realize that their buildings will not be frozen in time. In an age characterized by the anonymous glass boxes of Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, Rudolph had created a highly dynamic and heroic monument which dominated its surroundings. He had combined the rough sculptural qualities of the late concrete buildings of Le Corbusier with the dramatic spatial flow of Frank Lloyd Wright's pinwheel plans. The intensity of Rudolph's orchestration of a building as a moving spatial experience reached a new extreme: labyrinth-like passages opened up to grand central spaces in this seven story building incorporating some 37 different floor levels. His distinctive use of vertically ribbed concrete created richly textured walls sensitive to light and shadow on a smaller scale, while avoiding the negative effects of weathering. (When the building later burned, Rudolph remarked that he felt as if someone had died.)
In his works after the late 1950s he consistently explored several themes. His desire to create psychologically stimulating spaces is perhaps best seen in his churches, where space is dynamically sculpted by the inner surfaces of the buildings and animated by natural light from above. Good examples of such works are his Interdenominational Chapel (1960-1969) at the Tuskegee Institute in Alabama and the William R. Cannon Chapel (1979-1982) at Emory University in Atlanta.
His fascination with the broader urban implications of architecture found early expression in New Haven with the expressway scale of his grandly monumental Temple Street Parking Garage (1959-1963) and the conscious arrangement of repetitive units into a village in his original design for married students' housing (1960-1961) at Yale. In 1965 Rudolph left Yale and moved his practice to New York City.
New York Megastructures
In New York, Rudolph combined his interests on an appropriate 20th-century urban scale with the potentials of cellular construction in his project for the Graphic Arts Center (1967), where prefabricated modules, trucked to the site like mobile homes, were to be suspended from the skyscrapers' superstructure in a terraced, pinwheel fashion providing great variety within the huge scale of this megastructure. The building was not built as planned due to clashes with local trade unions over his proposed use of modular-built structures from non-union factories outside the region, but Rudolph predicted the idea had an inevitability that would lead it to completion somewhere, sometime in the future. "The mobile home is the 20th century brick," Rudolph said, but the modules planned for this structure had little in common with the majority of factory-fabricated structures to roll down the highway by the end of that century. Rudolph's modules were designed to fit on a truck, yet be combined and unfolded into a variety of grand spaces. The modules would be hung in place, all wired, with completed bathrooms and kitchens. The roof of one would become a garden space for another, giving New York tenants more outdoor space and better views than they were accustomed to having. The megastructure was to include two high-rise office buildings, schools, restaurants, industrial space, recreational opportunities, traffic-free streets, and parking for 2,100 cars, all blended seamlessly with 4050 apartments next to the Hudson River … a steel city within the city.
"I want to put homes in the sky," said Rudolph of the ill-fated project. "Psychologically, it makes a great deal of difference for people living closely together in cities.
Rudolph further expanded his proposal of megastructure for New York in his study for a lower Manhattan expressway (1967-1972). In this project an A-framed structure spanned the air-rights of the two mile long express-way, resulting in a man-made terraced ridge into which modules for housing, schools, stores, and offices could be plugged.
Rudolph also undertook such large complexes as the uncompleted Boston Government Service Center (1962-1971), where a megastructure accommodating a variety of functions scaled up to the street along its perimeter and was scaled down, through terraces, to an interior pedestrian court. In his Southeastern Massachusetts Technological Institute (1963-1966) at North Dartmouth he organized inter-locking buildings along a "spiraling mall," inspired by Thomas Jefferson's lawn at the University of Virginia. Rudolph respected the future in this design by leaving it open-ended, thereby assisting rather than hindering expansion.
Rudolph's work in the early 1980s included the City Center Towers (1982-1984) in Fort Worth, Texas. Rather than using the rough texture and monumental appearance of his most characteristic material, concrete, these towers had steel frames and glass curtain walls. Nonetheless, plasticity and a sculptural quality were achieved through the buildings' pinwheel plans. At the base of each building the curtain walls were set back, eroding the mass and exposing the steel structure. This served to address several urban concerns: a smaller scale was achieved, respecting the context of the older buildings in this historic district, and the more public oriented functions of the buildings' bases were acknowledged. This work summarized Rudolph's long held and pioneering concerns for an architecture with evocative spaces which was also responsible to its urban situation.
Rudolph made it clear that he was more interested in building than in collaboration or teaching, even within his own office. "Architecture is a personal effort, and the fewer people coming between you and your work the better." Despite this almost surly rejection of communication with colleagues, he focused much of his attention in his work to the "psychology of the building," the interactions of space and light with the human occupants, rather than merely on the lines of the building. His success in this endeavor led to many awards and accolades, including an Emmy Award in 1984 and a Creative Arts Award from Brandeis University in 1986.
Rudolph's later work included the Harbour Road mixed-use structure in Hong Kong, winner of an International Design Competition (1989), the Cheng Residence and Institution Hill condominiums in Singapore (1989), and the Wireless Road Project in Bangkok (1990).
Paul Rudolph's lasting effects in the field of architecture might be guessed from his statement: "Architecture, at least for me, is to a degree an art, and I feel fundamentally that it's the business of art to always question, to always turn everything upside down so that one sees it anew. It seems to me that this is the real business of art, though it is very disconcerting to most people; it gives them nothing to hold onto."
Further Reading on Paul Marvin Rudolph
The best single work on Rudolph in English is Sibyl Moholy-Nagy (introduction by), Gerhard Schwap (captions by), and Paul Rudolph (comments by), The Architecture of Paul Rudolph (1970). Other books which are especially good for their illustrations are Rupert Spade, Paul Rudolph (1971), and Paul Rudolph, Paul Rudolph: Architectural Drawings Yukio Futagawa, rd., (1972). Rudolph's project for the Lower Manhattan expressway is presented in Peter Wolf, The Evolving City: Urban Design Proposals by Ulrich Franzen and Paul Rudolph (1974). Discussions of Rudolph can also be found in Paul Heyer, Architects on Architecture: New Directions in America (1966), and Robert A. M. Stern, New Directions in American Architecture (1977). An extensive interview with Rudolph can be found in John W. Cook and Heinrich Klotz, Conversations with Architects (1973).
Other information is available in Charles R. Smith, Paul Rudolph and Louis Kahn: A Bibliography (1987); "Architect of Grand Design" in 50 Plus (Dec. 1985); an article about Rudolph's Graphic Arts Center appearing Dec. 13, 1968 in The Daily Telegraph Magazine and reprinted on an Internet site maintained by Frederick Clifford Gibson; and other descriptions of works at the same Internet site.