Paul Rudolph - a life of Art & Architecture

The Rudolph family's First Church and parsonage in Foss, Oklahoma
Photo: Paul Rudolph Heritage Foundation

Paul Rudolph was born on October 23, 1918 in Elkton, Kentucky to Reverand Keener Rudolph and Eurye (nee Stone) Rudolph.

Paul Rudolph's childhood was spent traveling the country from parish to parish in a succession of different schools and rundown parsonages.

As a result of his childhood, Rudolph resisted his parent's wish to become his father's successor.

 

The Rudolph family in Lebanon, New York
Photo: Paul Rudolph Heritage Foundation

Paul Rudolph as a teenager
Photo: Paul Rudolph Heritage Foundation

Paul Rudolph as a teenager
Photo: Paul Rudolph Heritage Foundation

Photo of a young Paul Rudolph visiting a house designed by Frank Lloyd Wright
Photo: Paul Rudolph Heritage Foundation

From 1935-1940, Rudolph studied architecture at the Alabama Polytechnic Institute (now Auburn University) where he received a Bachelor of Architecture degree.

Rudolph entered the navy at the beginning of World War Two after his first semester at Harvard. He was stationed at the Brooklyn Naval Yard from 1942-1946 where he was put in charge of ship building.

In 1940 at the age of 22, Rudolph went with his family to see the nearby Rosenbaum Residence - a Wright Usonian house - in Florence, Alabama. The emotional impact of the design left such an impression on Rudolph that he would recall the day until his death in 1997. He called the Rosenbaum living room "one of the most sublime spaces in American architecture."

Also in 1940 Rudolph won First Prize in the Rorimer Competition, American Institute of Decorators

At a friend's suggestion, Rudolph moved to Sarasota, Florida in 1941 to work for Ralph Twitchell. He stayed for 6 months before leaving to study at the Harvard Graduate School of Design.

  Paul Rudolph and classmates at Harvard   Photo: Paul Rudolph Heritage Foundation

Paul Rudolph and classmates at Harvard
Photo: Paul Rudolph Heritage Foundation

Paul Rudolph in the 1940's
Photo: Paul Rudolph Heritage Foundation

“More important was the understanding that comes from seeing how 75,000 workers were organized, and the importance of respecting every man’s role. I discovered red tape and learnt how to circumvent it. The game of deflecting existing forces started early.”
— Paul Rudolph

In September of 1946 Rudolph went back to Harvard and received a Master of Architecture. He returned to work with Ralph Twitchell, who made him an associate in 1947.

In 1948, Paul Rudolph received Harvard's Wheelwright Fellowship and traveled around Europe and England through mid-1949.

The Healy Guest House, also known as the 'cocoon' house, employed a sprayed on roof technology that Rudolph discovered while in the navy.

“I saw the mothballing of navy destroyer escorts especially, and how that worked and that was fascinating to me because of its elasticity.”
— Paul Rudolph
  Healy Guest House - 1949

Healy Guest House - 1949

Healy Guest House - 1949

Rudolph was given the Award of Merit from the American Institute of Architects for Best House of the Year for his design of the Healy Guest House in 1949.

In 1950, Rudolph became registered in Florida and began traveling between Florida and New York, where he lectured and taught at Yale, Harvard, Princeton, and other universities around the country.

Paul Rudolph in 1950
Photo: Library of Congress

Paul Rudolph in 1952
Photo: Paul Rudolph Heritage Foundation

Paul Rudolph in 1953
Photo: Library of Congress

In March 1952, Rudolph left Twitchell's office to start his own firm.

“Architecture is a personal effort, and the fewer people coming between you and your work the better. This is a very real problem, and you can only stretch one man so far. The heart can fall right out of a building during the production of working drawings, and sometimes you would not even recognize your own building unless you followed it through. If an architect cares enough, and practices architecture as an art, then he must initiate design; he must create rather than make judgments.”
— Paul Rudolph

Rudolph continued to travel as a guest lecturer and critic as his practice grew in Florida. "The Good Design Exhibition" designed by Rudolph opened in January 1952 at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City, placing him among such distinguished designers as Charles and Ray Eames.

In 1954 he was awarded the "Outstanding Young Architects Award" in an international competition in Sao Paulo, making him known as 'the most promising young architect' around the world thereafter.

U.S. Jordanian Embassy Project - 1954

  Jewett Arts Center for Wellesley College - 1955

Jewett Arts Center for Wellesley College - 1955

Also in 1954, Rudolph traveled to Jordan to begin work on a proposed U.S. Embassy, his first international project (and first public project outside of Florida) - which was to remain unbuilt.

  Riverview High School - 1957   Photo: Ezra Stoller

Riverview High School - 1957
Photo: Ezra Stoller

Sarasota High School - 1958

Paul Rudolph in 1958
Photo: Yale University

Paul Rudolph in 1960
Photo: Library of Congress

In the fall of 1957, Paul Rudolph was offered the Chairmanship of the School of Architecture at Yale University and opened another office in New Haven, Connecticut.

Rudolph continued to build projects in Sarasota, including the Deering Residence and the Milam Residence.

He eventually closed the Florida office in April 1960.

Deering Residence - 1958
Photo: Ezra Stoller

Milam Residence - 1960

Rudolph's designs for his last projects in Florida are notable for their emphasis of mass and expression over the previous focus on light materials, modular bays and prefabricated components.

The Milam residence was also the first project to incorporate air-conditioning, thus freeing Rudolph from design restrictions to mediate Florida's climate.

Shortly after assuming the Chairmanship at Yale, Rudolph was offered a number of construction projects on the campus. Greeley Memorial Laboratory and a housing complex for married students eventually led to the project that was to define - for good and for bad - Paul Rudolph's career.

Greeley Memorial Laboratory, 1957

Married Student Housing, 1960

Rudolph at Yale's Married Student Housing
Photo: Judith York Newman

Rudolph at Yale's Married Student Housing
Photo: Judith York Newman

In 1958, Paul Rudolph was given a unique opportunity by Yale University President Whitney A. Griswold to design the building that he would occupy as Dean of the School of Architecture. In effect, Rudolph became both the client and the architect for the project during its design from 1958 until its completion in 1964.

Rudolph's design was radical considering Miesian glass boxes were the vernacular of the day. The building's vertical concrete exterior was designed as a foil to the horizontality of Kahn's Yale Art Gallery across the street.

Located on a corner lot, Rudolph proposed a pin-wheel shaped plan consisting of 7 stories of studio levels which spiral around a central criticism and lecture area.

the Art & Architecture Building at Yale University

Perspective Section

Groundbreaking Ceremony, December 9, 1961
Photo: Yale University

The construction of the building was as innovative as the design itself.

The building is almost entirely formed from concrete poured in place, with large steel-reinforced concrete beams spanning the open areas and vertical concrete piers used for mechanical services.

Rudolph left the interior and exterior as exposed concrete, and developed a horizontal board and vertical ribbed finish in place of traditional surface treatments. After casting the wall, vertical wood forms were removed and the projections manually knocked off using hammers to reveal the stone aggregate cast into the concrete. The effect preserved the verticality of the design, and achieved the look of Rudolph's original renderings.

Photograph of the building's construction
Photo: Library of Congress

Detail of the concrete formwork
Photo: Kelvin Dickinson

Rudolph and the completed Art & Architecture building
Photo: Ezra Stoller

Rudolph and the completed Art & Architecture building
Photo: Library of Congress

Blue Cross/Blue Shield Building, 1957
Photo: Ezra Stoller

From 1958-1965, as Rudolph's popularity reached new heights, he was offered larger projects and began to design buildings throughout the Northeast.

Rudolph at the age of 44 in 1962 had established offices in Cambridge, New Haven and New York City. By this time he had already completed a diverse group of public projects - the Jewett Arts Center, Greeley Memorial Laboratory, an office building for Blue Cross/Blue Shield in Boston, and two schools in Florida. The range of influences in his work led the architectural press to question his direction in articles with titles like "Whither Paul Rudolph?" and "Rudolph at the Cross-roads".

From 1960 onward, Rudolph began to clearly question the architectural theories he learned from Gropius during his time at Harvard.

“Action has outstripped theory. The last decade has thrown a glaring light on the omissions, thinness, paucity of ideas, naivete with regard to symbols, lack of creativeness, and expressiveness of architectural philosophy as it developed during the twenties.”
— Paul Rudolph

Temple Street Parking Garage, 1959-1963

He concluded, "the end of architecture is to create space that is an appropriate psychological environment . . . One key to the problem is scale." The notion that scale is an often overlooked and misunderstood concept in architecture would be the focus of a dozen or so projects between 1958 and 1965. Scale at the human level, the building level and the city would dominate his work for the rest of his life.

The Temple Street Garage in New Haven, Connecticut was designed by Rudolph to solve a growing urban problem - how to design a parking garage for 1,500 cars in a way that is both in scale with its environment and celebrates the automobile.

Rudolph chose to double the supporting columns in a way to mediate the monumentality of the structure - a tool that would become a trademark.

Rudolph on site during construction
Photo: Judith York Newman

Rudolph on site during construction
Photo: Judith York Newman

“The usual definition of scale is the relationship of the human dimension to the environment. We talk about a building being “in scale” or “out of scale,” which is really nonsense. Most buildings that really count have multiple scales. Buildings need to be understandable in their varying dimensions – sight, sound, smell, relationship to their environment, their spot on the globe, materials, climate, the mode of approaching, modes of movement (i.e., walking, automobile, train, subway, bus, plane), etc. All of this is modified by our cultural memory and the twentieth-century contributions to transportation. The quickly moving vehicle has transformed the possibilities of scale as an architectural tool to help remind us of our humanity. Our modes of transportation will change in unpredictable ways, but the population explosion ensures that “getting there” will be with us for some time, and this changes our understanding of the environment.”
— Paul Rudolph

Endo Laboratories, 1960-1964
Photo: Paul Rudolph Heritage Foundation

Boston Government Services Center, 1962-1971
Photo: Kelvin Dickinson

As Rudolph searched for an appropriate visual expression for his reexamination of what he considered lacking in modern architecture, he continued to use the same bush-hammered concrete finish he developed for Yale's Art & Architecture building. During this period Rudolph added the use of sculptured piers to his language of repetitious modular openings.

“Modern architecture’s range of expression is today from A to B. We build isolated buildings with no regard to the space between them, monotonous and endless streets, too many goldfish bowls, too few caves. We tend to build merely diagrams of buildings.”

”One can say that the present tendency to reduce everything to a system of rectangles, both in plan and elevation, is an outgrowth of the modular concept and machine processes. We accept this discipline but we still long innately for the old play of light and shadow, for something curved.”
— Paul Rudolph

Up until his time at Yale, Rudolph's work had been a progressive exploration of modularity and functionalism. The work produced while in New Haven began to focus more on expressive forms, the control of light and shadow, the play with scale and composition of different types of space. Rudolph began to see the need for space for the imagination as much for functional needs.

Rudolph said, "many of our difficulties stem from the concept of functionalism as the only determinant of form. We cannot pretend to solve problems without precedent in form!"

The most notable difference in his work during this period is Rudolph's focus on flowing, curving lines and sculptural masses. The articulation of the buildings during this time results from exagerations of the shapes of the functions within.

“People, if they think about architecture at all, usually think in terms of the materials. While that’s important, it’s not the thing that determines the psychology of the building. It’s really the compression and release of space, the lighting of that space—dark to light—and the progression of one space to another. Because one remembers in that sense.”
— Paul Rudolph

As Rudolph moved away from functionalism and his buildings began to take on more sculptural qualities, he began to experiment with concrete block to achieve the look of his signature concrete finish without the cost. Rudolph developed a number of concrete block types - which were later to become ubiquitous - such as the fluted, ribbed and splitface block types.

Crawford Manor, 1962
Photo: Kelvin Dickinson

Orange County Government Center, 1963-1971
Photo: Kelvin Dickinson

The culmination of this period was Rudolph's design for the Southeastern Massachusetts Technological Institute (now UMass Dartmouth). In this project Rudolph conceived the campus master plan as a spiraling internal mall, with classroom buildings facing each other from either side. Originally a commuter campus, Rudolph surrounded this composition with a ring of parking lots, allowing for a separation between the scale of the automobiles and the internal scale of the green space.

Southeastern Massachusetts Technological Institute, 1963-1972
Photo: Library of Congress

Southeastern Massachusetts Technological Institute, 1963-1972
Photo: Kelvin Dickinson

After seven years of teaching at Yale, Rudolph left to practice architecture full time.

“It was up to me to hold everything together. I am very proud that I never had a major argument although I had brought the most diverse representatives of architectural ideas together at one time or another. I tried to be two different people - one unopinionated, interested in other’s ideas, helpful to their work, trying to relate everything to the general forces at play - but knowing all the time that this is the opposite of the life of a creative architect.”
— Paul Rudolph

In 1965, he moved his office to New York.

Rudolph's rendering of his new office on 58th Street in New York City

Interior of Rudolph's office
Photo: Library of Congress

Interior of Rudolph's office
Photo: Library of Congress

Interior of Rudolph's office
Photo: Library of Congress

The damaged interior
Photo: Yale University

On the night of June 14 1969, a fire broke out in the upper floors of the Art & Architecture building.

A rumor spread that an unhappy student set the blaze as a critique of what was seen as an increasingly difficult building to work in.

When the building was rennovated during the repairs, so much was altered that Rudolph said he didn't recognize it anymore.

“My buildings are like children. And when the Art and Architecture Building at Yale was burned, I felt that somebody had died. My buildings are very real presences for me, and they change—are changed—and have a life of their own.”
— Paul Rudolph

Rudolph would rarely speak about the building and not visit it again for almost 20 years. The rumors about the cause of the fire would forever damage Rudolph's reputation.

Graphic Arts Center, 1967-1968
Photo: Library of Congress

Lower Manhattan Expressway, 1967-1972
Photo: Library of Congress

At the end of the 1960s, Rudolph began to focus on the idea of creating complex compositions using simple modular elements.

Influenced by Moshe Safdie's prefabricated housing at the Montreal World Fair in 1967, he designed the Graphic Arts Center in 1967.

Rudolph predicted that mass-produced mobile homes, what he called the "Twentieth Century Brick", would become the basic building element in the future.

At the same time Rudolph was commissioned by the Ford Foundation to study a large megastructure as part of the proposed Lower Manhattan Expressway in New York City.

Rudolph’s interest in variety of contour and mass has been pursued not only in
unique buildings designed for specific programs and sites; he has also sought to
enrich the architectural possibilities of such unyielding problems as mass housing.
For many years he has studied the resources of the mobile home industry as
they might be applied to the manufacture of multiple-room housing components.
These units could be stacked, hung, or plugged into a vertical core of utilities
to produce a kind of housing more generous than our archaic building trades make
economically feasible.
— Arthur Drexler, the Museum of Modern Art, 1970

Burroughs Wellcome, 1969-1972
Photo: 
Joseph W. Molitor architectural photographs. Located in Columbia University, Avery Architectural & Fine Arts Library, Department of Drawings & Archives

Although neither of these schemes was built, Rudolph continued to be fascinated with modular housing prototypes, using them in smaller projects such as Oriental Gardens in New Haven and the Green residence in Cherry Ridge, Pennsylvania.

At the beginning of the 1970s, two important books were published about Rudolph's work: The Art & Architecture of Paul Rudolph by Sybil Moholy-Nagy in 1970 and an oversized book of his renderings in 1972. Despite the recognition his work was receiving, the amount of new commissions declined rapidly.

In 1972, Robert Venturi and his wife Denise Scott Brown published Learning from Las Vegas in which they compared Rudolph's Crawford Manor with their Guild Hall in Pennsylvania. They argued that Rudolph's modernist building was too heroic and instead proposed the idea of a "decorated shed." The argument was a sign of the changing currents in architecture away from Rudolph's monumental modernist works towards a new "post-modernism"

In spite of the severe blow to his reputation as a result of the renewed interest in historical styles by architects such as Charles Moore, Robert Stern and Michael Graves, Rudolph continued to receive commissions during the 1970's.

Bass Residence, 1970-1972
Photo: Paul Rudolph Heritage Foundation

Deane Residence, 1970-1972
Photo:
 Cerwin Robinson

Bass Towers Fort Worth, Texas, 1979

At the end of the 1970's, Rudolph designed a pair of towers for the Bass Brothers in downtown Fort Worth, Texas.

In the design, Rudolph argued that the scale of a high rise tower should be different between the base of the building, the middle of the tower and the top.

The idea that a building's scale is read as base, shaft and capital is firmly routed in classical architecture.

“I have been influenced by the fact that people perceive the first six stories (or 120 feet) of a high-rise building in a very different way from the rest of it. I came to that 120 feet because it has been shown (and I tested this myself) that most people can’t recognize other people from more than 120 feet. So what happens higher than this matters only as seen from a great distance. Therefore, you can argue that above 120 feet, the high-rise tower can be scale less, but below this level, the building must achieve a human scale.”
— Paul Rudolph

Rudolph's concern about the experience of scale with regard to highrise buildings would be the subject of exploration for the remainder of his career, especially as he began to design projects overseas.

In 1981, Rudolph began work on the Concourse, a five acre site in Singapore. The complex was composed of three parts: offices in a tall tower, with apartments hovering above a shopping mall podium. Rudolph created a different architectural expression for each part of the project, keeping with his belief that variety is an important part of urbanism.

The Concourse, 1981-1993
Photo: Paul Rudolph Heritage Foundation

Wisma Dharmala Sakti, 1982-1988

The Concourse, 1981-1993
Photo: Paul Rudolph Heritage Foundation

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Rudolph continued to explore scale in his design for the Dharmala Sakti headquarters in 1982.

Located in Jakarta, Indonesia the building's design reflects Rudolph's concern for regionalism by taking cues from the deep roof overhang of traditional Indonesian architecture resulting in a striking angular building façade.

“Traditional Indonesian architecture offers a wide variety of solutions to the problems of a hot and humid climate. The unifying element in this rich diversity is the roof.”
— Paul Rudolph

To vary the scale of the building, Rudolph rotated the square floor plan in and out of the paired structural columns, so that the body of the tower is composed of 6 sets of repeating floor plate configurations.

Like he began to do in the design for the Bass Towers in Fort Worth, Rudolph created a heavily articulated podium with paired exposed structural columns. Above the base with its varied programmatic elements the tower is segmented into repeating clusters of facades, thereby creating multiple scales in the single building.

Bond Centre (now Lippo Centre), 1984-1988
Photo: Paul Rudolph Heritage Foundation

Bond Centre (now Lippo Centre), 1984-1988
Photo: Paul Rudolph Heritage Foundation

Paul Rudolph designed the Bond Centre - now the Lippo Centre - as a pair of twin towers on Hong Kong island on the edge of the harbor in 1984. As Rudolph disliked symmetry, the towers are not exactly the same - one is 36 stories tall and the other is 40. The base of the building, as with his previous designs, is a complicated series of bridges and mezzanines and tie the building into the city's elevated walkways. At the base Rudolph exposes the building's columns, that rise up at different heights which Rudolph likened to hydraulic pumps pushing the building into the sky.

The towers are both octagonal in plan, with four long and four short sides. In order to add scale to the glass curtainwall shaft of the towers, Rudolph created alternating projected floors, giving the building the appearance of hands grabbing each tower. This element created better views for corner offices and resulted in the building being known locally as the "koala building."

The Colonnade Condominium, 1980-1987
Photo: Paul Rudolph Heritage Foundation

For the design of the Colonnade Condominium project in Singapore, Rudolph returned to the "Twentieth Century Brick" concept that he had developed as part of the Graphic Arts Center in the late 1960s.

Rudolph originally proposed the building be composed of factory-built units that were assembled on site. The cost proved to be too much, so the building was built out of poured concrete and infill panels, with the modular appearance maintained.

Rudolph again varies the scale of the tower by raising it on a series of round columns exposed at the building's base, giving the building its name. The shaft of the tower consists of a series of repeating solids and voids providing each unit with a double height living room and private terrace. 

To further add scale to the buildings mass, the stair shafts and elevator core are recessed, dividing the plan into quadrants.

Sino Tower (Harbour Road) project, 1989

In 1989 the Sino land company held a competition to design the tallest building in Asia, to be located in Hong and known as the Sino Tower.

For his proposal, Rudolph designed a structure similar to the Eiffel Tower.

The legs of the building, eight twin sets of splayed columns rose 150 feet into the air to hold the hotel above. The base of the building included the entrance, exhibition and retail areas.

Above the hotel, Rudolph positioned 6 blocks of offices with overhanging corners like those used in the Dharmala Sakti building.

The scale of the tower itself was divided into units of 10 floors each, with a vertical separation for mechanical services.

Although none of the proposed schemes was ever built, Rudolph's design reflects his life-long pursuit of scale in highrise buildings.  Rudolph continued into the 1990's to design large housing and office developments in Asia, most of which were never built.

Institution Hill Condominiums project, 1987
Photo: Paul Rudolph Heritage Foundation

Gatot Subroto project, 1990
Photo: Library of Congress

Institution Hill Condominiums in Singapore was proposed to be a series of interconnected towers of different heights to appear to grow out of the site.

His design for Gatot Subroto in Indonesia was also never built and consisted of multiple segments to break down the scale of the large office and condominium complex.

Paul Rudolph
Photo: Library of Congress

On August 8, 1997 Paul Rudolph passed away in New York City from mesothelioma, a cancer that usually results from exposure to asbestos - probably during his years at the Brooklyn Navy Shipyard.

At the time of his death he was working on plans for a new town of 250,000 people in Indonesia, and a private residence, chapel and office complex in Singapore.