Welcome to the Archives of the Paul Rudolph Heritage Foundation. The purpose of this online database is to function as a tool for scholars, students, architects, preservationists, journalists and other interested parties. The archive consists of photographs, slides, articles and publications from Rudolph’s lifetime; physical drawings and models; personal photos and memorabilia; and contemporary photographs and articles.

Image rights are the responsibility of the user. Unless otherwise noted, images should be credited to the Paul Rudolph Heritage Foundation. Please speak with a representative of the Paul Rudolph Heritage Foundation before publishing photographs. Drawings, sketches and other materials at the Library of Congress are in the public domain, however the digital scan or photograph of the item still belongs to its creator. The copyright of any other items remains with the estate of Paul Rudolph and Ernst Wagner, founder of the Paul Rudolph Heritage Foundation.

Steichen Apartment.jpg

LOCATION
Address: 455 East 51st Street
City: New York
State: New York
Zip Code: 10022
Nation: United States
Google Maps Address: 40.75403, -73.96371

STATUS
Type: Residence
Status: Built

TECHNICAL DATA
Date(s): 1973
Site Area:
Floor Area: 2 floors, 1200 s.f. on the lower level; 600 s.f. on the upper level.
Height:
Floors (Above Ground):
Building Cost:

PROFESSIONAL TEAM
Client: Joanna T. Steichen
Architect: Paul Rudolph
Rudolph Staff: Peter Mullen, Project Architect
Associate Architect: 
Landscape:
Structural:
MEP:
QS/PM:

SUPPLIERS
Contractor: The Ormar Building Corporation
Subcontractor(s):

Steichen Residence

When Paul Rudolph left the front door of his Beekman Place townhouse, he would only have to turn his head to the right to see Beekman Terrace: the apartment house which terminates the northern end of his street. Built in 1925 to the designs of Treanor & Fatio—most well-known as the architects of luxe Palm Beach mansions—the building has several frontages, simultaneously facing 51st Street, Beekman Place, and the East River.

Into this building (a traditional brick edifice, with Venetian touches), moved Joanna T. Steichen (1933-2010), recently widowed from the pioneering American photographer and MoMA photography curator Edward Steichen (1879-1973). Paul Rudolph had designed MoMA’s landmark 1955 “Family of Man” exhibit for Edward Steichen, and through him had come to know and befriend Joanna. When she called Rudolph, seeking a recommendation for an architect to help with her new apartment, he said “I’ll be right over!”

The apartment (which was below-grade, but had river-views) had a 20-foot ceiling height—and that was fully utilized by Rudolph: he mostly maintained it at its full-height, but added two room-spanning platforms which overlook the space: the lower for a library-guest room, the upper for Steichen’s office, files, and working library.

A cantilevered staircase - a descendent of the stair in his New Haven home - flies through the space, but this time the risers are closed (a concession to the owner’s dog). The result is a staircase that has a folded, accordion character—an approach that would reach maximum purity in Rudolph’s later Beekman Place Quadruplex, where the stairs are folded steel.

Other linkages to Rudolph’s residences can be seen. As with his nearby Beekman rental apartment, Rudolph here added an exterior balcony. In Rudolph’s apartment one can also see the other side of his penchant for creating challenging, vertiginous spaces - he can also make welcoming, snug retreats: his own cocoon-like apartment living room, and the abundantly cushioned recessed sitting space, tucked-in below Steichen’s lower balcony.

I bought an interesting bit of raw space down the street. By then, I was aware of what a renowned master of space Paul was. I called him and explained that I had these twenty-foot ceilings and a river view and a very limited budget. Did he know a young architect for whom this job would be an appropriate challenge? Paul answered, “I’ll be right over!”

What a wonderful experience that was! And what a generous gift of his time and talent! With the comfortable assurance of the true genius who doesn’t have to go around proving his worth, Paul was a joy to work with. There were no displays of temperament, no quarrels. For every problem, Paul came up with three or four brilliant solutions, clearly drawn. The hard part was choosing.

While Paul sometimes made lavish use of expensive, hi-tech materials, for my project, he took delight in devising wonderful lines and shapes out of the humblest ones, such as painted plywood. When I vetoed a low-budget, prefab spiral staircase because my dog would not use stairs with open risers, Paul sat down and drew a poem of a staircase in wood, a design that, when built, and built firm and solid, looked like the merest sketch of a flight of white stairs floating along a white wall.

Working with Paul was a great learning experience. In a few words, he could explain, with gentle but searing clarity, why something worked or didn’t work. Sometimes, after discussing a problem, he left it for me to solve. Like all great teachers, he opened the doors of his listeners’ imaginations so that they could go on and invent their own solutions.
— Johanna T. Steichen, Letter for the Opening of the Paul Rudolph Drawing Exhibition dated 9/18/97
She is a friend, the remodeling was down the street from where I live. I just gave her practical advice, produced a few working drawings and dropped in from time to time to see how things were coming along.
— Paul Rudolph in Schmertz, Mildred F, and Elisabeth K. Thompson. Apartments, Townhouses, & Condominiums. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1981. p. 174-175.

DRAWINGS - Design Drawings / Renderings

DRAWINGS - Construction Drawings

DRAWINGS - Shop Drawings

PHOTOS - Project Model

PHOTOS - During Construction

PHOTOS - Completed Project

PHOTOS - Current Conditions

LINKS FOR MORE INFORMATION

RELATED DOWNLOADS

PROJECT BIBLIOGRAPHY
Schmertz, Mildred F, and Elisabeth K. Thompson. Apartments, Townhouses, & Condominiums. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1981. p. 174-175.