Milam Residence - with beach restored - put back on the market in time to celebrate NATIONAL PRESERVATION MONTH

It doesn’t get more “classic Rudolph” than this: the Milam Residence’s beach-facing elevation. The house is located in Ponte Verda Beach, FL, and this striking view was taken in January, 1962, one year after its completion. Photograph by Joseph W. Molitor. Courtesy of the Joseph W. Molitor architectural photograph collection, located in the Columbia University, Avery Architectural and Fine Arts Library, Department of Drawings and Archives.

It doesn’t get more “classic Rudolph” than this: the Milam Residence’s beach-facing elevation. The house is located in Ponte Verda Beach, FL, and this striking view was taken in January, 1962, one year after its completion. Photograph by Joseph W. Molitor. Courtesy of the Joseph W. Molitor architectural photograph collection, located in the Columbia University, Avery Architectural and Fine Arts Library, Department of Drawings and Archives.

Human beings are, for the most part, naturally acquisitive beings: if we see something desirable, we want it - to hold it, to keep it, to own it, and - hopefully - to protect it. There’s no shame in that yearning - it’s a response built into us, a product of our evolution. How much the better when our eyes and tastes are attracted to excellence: when our desires are for things of the greatest beauty, elegance, and high achievement. Well, you can now fulfill that thirst in the domain of architecture: one of Paul Rudolph’s most important homes - a true “signature” work - is now available.

The Milam Residence in Ponte Verda Beach, Florida, by Paul Rudolph, was completed at the beginning of the 1960’s, and instantly became one of - maybe the - paradigm image of what great, Modern, American residential architecture could be. And no wonder: Rudolph’s design elegantly combines:

  • visual richness, via a celebration of geometry

  • striking clarity in composition

  • functional rigor in planning

  • sensible response to the environment’s potential for creating intense solar gain and glare

  • a diversity of spaces which allow for varied uses—and a relaxed-but-elegant way-of-living

  • a practical approach to construction

  • superb siting along an attractive beach

Rudolph commented on his design:

“A composition of considerable spatial variety with vertical and horizontal interpenetration of spaces clearly defined inside and out. Gone are the earlier notions of organization through regular structure with subdivisions of space freely spaced. Spatial organization has taken the place of purely structural organization. Floors and walls are extended in elaborated forms toward the views, thereby making of the facade a reflection of the interior space. The brises-soleil also serve as mullions for the glass, turning the exterior wall into a series of deep openings filled only with glass. The exceptional wild Florida site 60 ft. above the Atlantic Ocean is a counterfoil to the geometry of the structure.” [Paul Rudolph quoted in: The Architecture of Paul Rudolph. New York: Praeger, 1970]

The family of Arthur W. Milam, who originally commissioned the building, have been owner-residents since the building was finished, and have cared for it with pride. Now, they are making the building available - and they are hoping that the next owner will be struck by the building’s many beauties and virtues, as well as understanding its importance as a work of truly great Modern architecture.

The Milam family has also been doing some site restoration: installing a new retaining wall along the beach. This stabilizes the beautiful terrain which ascends up to the house.

A new retaining wall has been installed, stabilizing the terrain on the beach-side of the house. Photo: courtesy of the Milam family.

A new retaining wall has been installed, stabilizing the terrain on the beach-side of the house. Photo: courtesy of the Milam family.

This could allow the next owner the option to build decks and/or stairs, as needed, upon the site—perhaps ones like Rudolph himself envisioned in his superb drawings of the house:

Paul Rudolph’s drawing of the Milam Residence’s site plan, and his perspective of the beach side of the house. They show his proposed design for stairs and platforms: they would elegantly cascade from the house, down the dunes, towards the beach below. Drawings: Paul Rudolph Heritage Foundation

You can learn more about the Milam House (and see more images) at the Paul Rudolph Heritage Foundation’s project page for this building.

Interested? As William F. Buckley once said “I cannot imagine that anyone who has the money will put off the purchase …; or that anyone who hasn’t the money will put off borrowing to buy…” We endorse such enthusiasm for excellence—and we’ll be happy to put you in-touch with the owner. Just contact us via our email at office@paulrudolphheritagefoundation.org

AN OCCASION FOR CELEBRATION

The National Register of Historic Places is the official list of the Nation’s historic places worthy of preservation. Authorized by the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966, the National Park Service’s National Register of Historic Places is part of a national program to coordinate and support public and private efforts to identify, evaluate, and protect America’s historic and archaeological resources.

We are happy to note the Milam Residence is on that distinguished list. It achieved that status in 2016, and you can see their official page on the house here—and their extensive and deeply researched report on the house here.

It is always a good time to celebrate Paul Rudolph—and the combination of Preservation Month and news of the restored beachfront at the Milam Residence is a double-treat.

Rudolph Reimagined: A New York Family’s Reworking of an Iconic Rudolph Interior

“It’s pretty darn original,” Carolyn Rowan says with a beaming smile as she shows me into the living room of her family’s stunning apartment on Manhattan’s Upper East Side; and indeed it is. Described by Ms. Rowan as a “labor of love,” her apartment’s interior is one of particular note for more than purely aesthetic reasons. Redesigned for banker Maurits Edersheim and his wife Claire in 1970 from its original 1917 form, the interior of the 5th-floor apartment is a noted example of Paul Rudolph’s interior works.

When Ms. Rowan and her husband, Marc—longtime residents of the 6th floor—purchased the apartment, they made a promise to Claire Edersheim, who often spoke about how she and Maurits “built the apartment with Rudolph,” that it would remain largely unaltered and that she and her husband would do little to mar or obscure Rudolph’s mastery. The end result of this promise, which was lovingly undertaken with the assistance of noted interior designer Tony Ingrao, is a sleek and retro space that, while more contemporary, retains the Rudolphian whimsy that makes it so unique.

Pictured: A before shot, taken by Anthony Cotsifas courtesy of 1stDibs.com above an after shot, taken by Ethan Shapiro

The heart of Rudolph’s vision remains, but in an updated form. Original 1970’s features like track lighting have been supplanted by more modern fixtures, and features like the unique “u” shaped couch, which the Rowans remade in the exact same footprint as the one Ms. Edersheim took with her when she sold the unit, has been reupholstered in a more muted fabric.

Pictured: A before shot, taken by Anthony Cotsifas courtesy of 1stDibs.com above an after shot, taken by Ethan Shapiro

Unfortunately, many Rudolph interiors are lost, razed by later homeowners who lack a knowledge of his significance or an appreciation of his works, which is why it’s important to emphasize renovations like the one undertaken by the Rowan family. As pictured above, the Rowans’ transformed the office space from its original seventies feel to one that was better suited to their own taste, while retaining Rudolph’s couch, desk, stair-shelves, and ceiling decoration.

Pictured: A before shot, taken by Anthony Cotsifas courtesy of 1stDibs.com next to an after shot, taken by Genevieve Garruppo courtesy of Tony Ingrao Design’s Intagram

The Rowan renovation shows how an owner of a Rudolph property or interior can still allow for Rudolph’s details to shine through, like the mirrored walls and kidney-shaped sofa seen above.

Pictured: A before shot, taken by Anthony Cotsifas courtesy of 1stDibs.com next to an after shot, taken by Ethan Shapiro

The hallway, pictured above, received the most changes — however, Rudolph’s design is still present in the sloping walls that punctuate the center right of the hallway, which was once the playroom of the Edersheim children (and is now a foyer that leads to the second story of the Rowan duplex).

Pictured: A before shot, taken by Anthony Cotsifas courtesy of 1stDibs.com next to an after shot, taken by Ethan Shapiro

The dining room, seen above, has been repainted in an airy white, and retains the original Paul Rudolph dining table, which cleverly breaks apart into three smaller, circular tables whose connecting leaves fold neatly under the shelving unit against the wall. Though bereft of the delft pottery it was made to showcase, the unique feature wall Rudolph designed still remains in its original form.

Pictured: A before shot provided by Carolyn Rowan next to an after shot taken by Ethan Shapiro

It isn’t easy to be the steward of an iconic property, especially one full of original architectural details. Luckily, there are sensitive owners like the Rowan Family who value such a property and have, throughout their four-year-long renovation, kept the heart and soul of Rudolph alive in their space. Right down to the last mirrored wall pane.

A ROOM FULL OF RUDOLPH: ARCHITECTURE STUDENTS DISCOVER PAUL RUDOLPH’S MODULIGHTOR BUILDING (AND SO MUCH MORE!)

Five sophomore design studios - nearly 70 students in all - at the City College of New York’s School of Architecture, all utilized Paul Rudolph’s MODULIGHTOR BUILDING as a focus for their design studies during the Spring 2019 semester. The drawing, shown here, is but one example of the very many exciting investigations conducted by the students. The Paul Rudolph Heritage Foundation facilitated the students’ work, and were also invited as jurors for their final presentations. Photo of drawing: by Kelvin Dickinson, for the Paul Rudolph Heritage Foundation. Photo of Modulightor Building : copyright by Annie Schlechter, from the archives of the Paul Rudolph Heritage Foundation.

CAN RUDOLPH BE “TAUGHT”?

Johann Sebastian Bach was a composer greatly loved by Paul Rudolph (and Bach was the composer most frequently played by Rudolph, a life-long pianist.) As the culmination of the Baroque period, it has been said that “All roads lead to Bach—but none lead from him.” That seems true of Bach: towering genius that he was, the Baroque seems to terminate with him, and “followers” - if any - are but footnotes. Similar things have been said - indeed accused - of a variety of architects: those who have a special style, or a unique way of problem-solving, or virtuoso skills - but for whom it seems that no authentic “school” could follow and be nourished by the model architect’s oeuvre. Such a charge has been brought against Sullivan, Gaudi, Wright and, yes, even Paul Rudolph.

Yet Rudolph was a well-known educator: as Chair of Yale’s School of Architecture from 1958 to 1965, he truly re-molded the school, via his mark on the curriculum, selection of faculty, and personal presence. As a teacher, he had - at least according to their own testimony - a decisive effect on his students. Rudolph explicitly claimed that in his own work he was expressing strongly held opinions and prejudices - but when it came to guiding students, he sought to not impose his formal vocabulary, but rather to impart general principles and help the student clarify their own ideas. Since his students seem to have gone in the most diverse directions - not becoming “little Rudolphs” - that seems evidence for his non-directional claim.

Paul Rudolph with architecture students in the Yale Art & Architecture Building, giving a “desk crit” in 1963. Photo: copyright Ezra Stoller

Paul Rudolph with architecture students in the Yale Art & Architecture Building, giving a “desk crit” in 1963. Photo: copyright Ezra Stoller

But can anything useful to students - something more than even the most timeless principles of architecture & place making - be distilled from Rudolph’s work? And can that be applied to architectural education today?

A RUDOLPHIAN ADVENTURE IN EDUCATION

Students at the City College of New York’s School of Architecture answer: YES!

The students - all five sophomore studios, comprising nearly 70 students - spent the Spring semester on a set of projects which focused on (and were inspired by) Paul Rudolph’s Modulightor Building. The term’s work comprised 4 investigations and sets of interrelated results:

  • Near the beginning of the term, all students visited the building (sometimes several times!) exploring it, recording it via measured drawings and photography, and studying documents about the building’s construction and evolution (both its as-built incarnation, as well as versions Rudolph envisioned for its development.) This information was distilled into drawings and models.

  • They were also introduced to Rudolph’s chair (which they got to see - and sit on! - during their visit). This they each documented in carefully drafted drawings, analyzed in different ways - and then transformed into an individual concept which they presented as a model.

  • Analyzing the Modulightor Building was the student’s next focus. Some chose the façade, while others chose aspects of the interior organization, or Rudolph’s handling of light, or the geometric rigor of his planning, or the richness of his sectional compositions, or some other aspect.

  • Finally, they were to take an aspect of Rudolph’s work - particularly from the Modulightor Building, but also looking at his overall oeuvre - and use that to design an ice cream stand. They were not to just copy a part of the building, nor were they instructed to directly emulate Rudolph’s style. Rather, they were to find in Rudolph’s work “generative devices” which would inspire and nourish their projects. An ice cream stand may seem a rather pedestrian program, but it’s important to remember that early in his career, Rudolph proposed more-than-one design for such buildings. That’s something we featured in a previous blog which you can read here. Moreover, Rudolph never exhibited any snobbery about the types of projects he’d take on (something we quite admire.)

The sophomore year’s choice to engage with the Modulightor Building is a consequence of the work of Eduardo Andres Alfonso. Prof. Alfonso was the coordinator-curator for the two exhibits that the Paul Rudolph Heritage Foundation mounted in 2018 for Rudolph’s centenary - and so he was well-familiar with the building. His proposal for using this fascinating and complex Rudolph building - one that was also geographically accessible to the students - was accepted by his co-instructors, and the PRHF was very willing to give the school access to our facilities and historical documentation.

But what was the result of all this work - these students’ design investigations and creations?

ENTER THE JURY

On Thursday, May 9th , 2019, the Paul Rudolph Heritage Foundation was invited to participate in the end- of-semester jury of the students’ work. Kelvin Dickinson, the Foundation’s president, and Seth Joseph Weine, head of research, trekked up to the City College of New York’s Bernard and Anne Spitzer School of Architecture building on Manhattan’s 135th Street. Upon entering we were directed to a large atrium at the center of the building: the site of that day’s jury. It is a spacious, light-filled room, several stories tall, and dramatically crossed—at its upper reaches—by suspended catwalks.

City College’s School of Architecture building’s central atrium: a view from above, Showing the students work being set up (just prior to the beginning of the end-of-semester jury.) Photo: Kelvin Dickinson for the Paul Rudolph Heritage Foundation

City College’s School of Architecture building’s central atrium: a view from above, Showing the students work being set up (just prior to the beginning of the end-of-semester jury.) Photo: Kelvin Dickinson for the Paul Rudolph Heritage Foundation

In this space we were met with an exciting clamor: dozens of students were putting up drawings and placing models on the four sides of the atrium (with the drawings sometimes reaching up nearly a dozen feet) and the various design studio teachers were trying to put all this into a presentable order.

The final stages of getting the students’ work ready for the jury to see. Photo: Kelvin Dickinson for the Paul Rudolph Heritage Foundation

The final stages of getting the students’ work ready for the jury to see. Photo: Kelvin Dickinson for the Paul Rudolph Heritage Foundation

When things had settled a bit, the jurors - there were several for each studio - were invited to view the building models, meet their authors, and learn about what tactic each had taken. For ourselves, so thoroughly infused with the Modulightor Building in which we have our offices, this display of various approached the students had taken was like seeing the building with fresh eyes.

Several examples of the models which were on display at the beginning of the session. Each team took a different approach to making their model of the Modulightor Building - and to highlighting a fresh aspect of its design. Photos: Kelvin Dickinson for the Paul Rudolph Heritage Foundation

Each student team (they worked in pairs on the models) had seen & analyzed the building in a different way: via geometry, or with different materials, or by cutting a section on a different line, or by highlighting a diversity of aspects of Rudolph’s vision. It felt like a Modulightor Building design banquet.

One team’s model, used by them to analyze the building. In this example, the student team constructed the model so that the front façade could be removed. Photo: Kelvin Dickinson for the Paul Rudolph Heritage Foundation

One team’s model, used by them to analyze the building. In this example, the student team constructed the model so that the front façade could be removed. Photo: Kelvin Dickinson for the Paul Rudolph Heritage Foundation

THE JURY JUDGES

Jurors were asked to gather in front to the student work of the particular studio which had invited them. Then each student made a presentation and the jurors responded.

With drawings reaching way up the walls, that added to the drama of the graphic aspect of the student’s presentations. Photo: Kelvin Dickinson for the Paul Rudolph Heritage Foundation

With drawings reaching way up the walls, that added to the drama of the graphic aspect of the student’s presentations.
Photo: Kelvin Dickinson for the Paul Rudolph Heritage Foundation

It’s important to remember that, in architecture school juries, the juror is not there to determine the student’s grade [that’s the responsibility of their studio teacher - their design “crit”]. Instead, the job of each juror is to look (and listen) very carefully to what the student is presenting, and to offer reactions. The offered responses might be additional layers of interpretation to their work, or bringing up questions that the student could further consider, or references to buildings or writings they would profit by examining, or pointing out things about their design the student hadn’t even noticed they were doing - or outlining where the project could productively go (or didn’t).

The quality of the students’ work - the commitment they express - can often be discerned from the involvement of the jurors. Our experience, of the over-a-dozen students we juried that day, was one of intense focus.

Photo:  Kelvin Dickinson, for the Paul Rudolph Heritage Foundation

It’s an old question:

The jurors speak. The jurors make deep, discerning, poetic, philosophical, pedagogical, and practical suggestions and observations. But in the face of these opinions, how can one evaluate how well each student did?

A key thing to look for is engagement:  Did the student’s work draw the jury in, provoking discussion, generating questions, and opening up new paths of investigation?

To judge by what we saw - and vigorously participated in - these students did very well indeed: the jury seemed so engaged in each project that it was hard to apply the brakes. Again-and-again, the teacher had to urge us jurors to stop and go on to the next student’s work (so that the jury’s time was fairly divided and each student would get a good  share of their attention.)

We were delighted with the work shown: the student’s intense focus on the Modulightor Building’s many layers, their intelligent analysis, and the creative paths they took as a result of their immersion in Rudolph.

Below is a selection of images of student work, presented on that exciting day. Congratulations to everyone on such fine work!

“GOD IS IN THE DETAILS” (AT LEAST IN RUDOPH’S DETAILS)

Spatial power: Paul Rudolph’s analytical drawing of his Tuskegee Chapel.  Image: Paul Rudolph Archive, Library of Congress – Prints and Photographs Division

Spatial power: Paul Rudolph’s analytical drawing of his Tuskegee Chapel.

Image: Paul Rudolph Archive, Library of Congress – Prints and Photographs Division

Mies van der Rohe’s most famous saying is“God is in the details.” Of course, Mies was referring to the profound importance of carefully designed, well-considered, and fully-studied detailing in a building or object. Part of the criteria is not just whether a construction detail handles minimal practical needs (i.e.: “keep out the rain”)—but rather: the immense impact that even the smallest architectural details can have on the experience of a building (or an interior, or a piece of furniture.)

Does Mies’ exhortation about details actually have religious implications? And does it have such implications for Mies’ own architecture (and those practicing in a similar mode)? Those questions have been debated for a long time and are hard to answer, especially since Mies and other Modern architects have been relatively silent, or enigmatic, or maybe just un-committed about their spiritual inclinations.

When it comes to a spiritual interpretation of Mies’ famous saying, our best hypothesis is that Mies and his coterie believed that a superbly designed work-of-architecture (which, of course, would have very fine details) can bring forth experiences of transcendence: something akin to religious states. Well, that’s hardly to be wondered at, as such power is inherent in truly great works of art. Indeed, whether a work-of-art has that transcendence-inducing power (or not) is one of the ways we define its greatness (or lack thereof).Note well—and this is key—that we consider[some] architecture to be works-of-art, and hence open to this sort of assessment. We don’t know much about Paul Rudolph’s religious thoughts or feelings. He was the son of a minister, and Rudolph recounts that seeing his father engage with an architect (on a church that was to be built) was a key influence on his wanting to go into architecture. Some of Rudolph’s most interesting designs are for religious buildings—indeed, church, chapel, and synagogue projects punctuate his career. Here’s a drawing of a lesser-known project by him from 1956, a church for Siesta Key, Florida:

Rudolph’s perspective drawings of a design for the St. Boniface Episcopal Church, a 1956 project for Siesta Key, Florida. Image: Paul Rudolph Archive, Library of Congress – Prints and Photographs Division

Rudolph’s perspective drawings of a design for the St. Boniface Episcopal Church, a 1956 project for Siesta Key, Florida. Image: Paul Rudolph Archive, Library of Congress – Prints and Photographs Division

And Rudolph’s Tuskegee Chapel truly helped anchor his fame:

The interior of Paul Rudolph’s Tuskegee Chapel, at the Tuskegee Institute in Alabama. It was constructed between 1967 and 1969, and is one of his half-dozen most well-known designs. Photo:G. E. Kidder Smith Image Collection, MIT Libraries

The interior of Paul Rudolph’s Tuskegee Chapel, at the Tuskegee Institute in Alabama. It was constructed between 1967 and 1969, and is one of his half-dozen most well-known designs. Photo:G. E. Kidder Smith Image Collection, MIT Libraries

While Rudolph’s half-century career extended until his passing in 1997—and he was prolific to the end—his Cannon Chapel at Emory University, from 1975, was one of the last major non-residential works that he completed in the US:

Paul Rudolph’s Interior perspective-rendering of his  Cannon Chapel , at Emory University. This commission may have been very meaningful to Rudolph: his father, Reverend Keener Rudolph, was in Emory theology school’s first graduating class. Image: This original pen & ink drawing is in the collection of Ernst Wagner, Founder of the Paul Rudolph Heritage Foundation.

Paul Rudolph’s Interior perspective-rendering of his Cannon Chapel, at Emory University. This commission may have been very meaningful to Rudolph: his father, Reverend Keener Rudolph, was in Emory theology school’s first graduating class. Image: This original pen & ink drawing is in the collection of Ernst Wagner, Founder of the Paul Rudolph Heritage Foundation.

Cannon Chapel features a prominent tower-like fin, whose major symbolic motif is a cross. But Rudolph’s approach is different: instead of the cross-as-object (which is typical of almost all church buildings), he renders that cross as cut-out of the fin’s stonework, creating a cross-shaped opening. So that cross, with the sun shining through, is an embodiment of light—a highly spiritual interpretation, in architectural form. Moreover, the light and shadow effect(on the building’s adjacent surfaces) is quite striking:

Part of the exterior of Emory’s Cannon Chapel. Image: Emory University

Part of the exterior of Emory’s Cannon Chapel. Image: Emory University

Even though the building’s primary symbolism is Christian, the building is used by a quite diverse range of the campus’ religious groups. Here’s a passage, describing that, from a 2001 issue of Emory Magazine: an article titled “Cannon Chapel: Twenty Years of Shared Sacred Space.”

Cannon Chapel is the center of religious observances on campus for a variety of denominations and religious groups. About fifteen hundred students attend official worship services each month. “Emory claims grounding in a faith tradition, and religious and spiritual life remains a foundational root of the University,” Henry-Crowe says. “And it is appreciated.” In any given week the chapel’s sanctuary, which seats 480, might be host to an ecumenical worship service, a Roman Catholic mass, an Emory Zen Buddhist group meditation, and a Jewish High Holy Days service. “We have diversity within diversity,” Henry-Crowe says of the thirty religious groups represented on Emory’s Interfaith Council. “The genius of the building is that it is built to be an interfaith space. No symbols are immovable.”

This is not the only case of one building being able to serve various religious groups—indeed, there is a study of how such religious space-sharing can work (and the accommodations that need to be made, to try to have that succeed). Apropos this, for Emory’s Cannon Chapel, it’s that article’s last line which intrigues us: “No symbols are immovable.” What’s that about? It turns out that the reference is quite literal. In the archives of the Paul Rudolph Heritage Foundation, we came across an interesting construction detail [a godly detail?] This is a sheet from the construction drawings of Rudolph’s Cannon Chapel:

Construction detail drawing, from the set of drawings done by Paul Rudolph and his office for the Cannon Chapel at Emory University. This drawing, sheet number D-1, is dated 1981, and the title is: “Portable Cross & Portable Menorah Details.” [And below are some close-up views of portions of this drawing.]  Image: Paul Rudolph Heritage Foundation

Construction detail drawing, from the set of drawings done by Paul Rudolph and his office for the Cannon Chapel at Emory University. This drawing, sheet number D-1, is dated 1981, and the title is: “Portable Cross & Portable Menorah Details.” [And below are some close-up views of portions of this drawing.]

Image: Paul Rudolph Heritage Foundation

As you can see in the details shown above, flexibility was built into Emory’s Cannon Chapel, so that it could be used by various denominations.

While the ability to change key symbolic elements (in a shared sacred structure) is a good idea, it takes serious thinking to determine how that’s to be carried out: it’s not easy to design that kind of flexibility and have it be simultaneously buildable, fit within the budget, and ongoingly practical to use. Here, at Emory, it shows that Rudolph really cared about those details.

A LUMINOUS PHOTOGRAPHER: JOE POLOWCZUK

The Modulightor Building, on 58th street in New York City, designed by Paul Rudolph. Joe Polowczuk’s photograph, taken as evening was coming on—what he poetically calls “the blue hour”—shows the building glowing from within.

The Modulightor Building, on 58th street in New York City, designed by Paul Rudolph. Joe Polowczuk’s photograph, taken as evening was coming on—what he poetically calls “the blue hour”—shows the building glowing from within.

Architecture and photography have had a long relationship—maybe the longest: the three prime candidates for the world’s first photograph are a streetscape (in which buildings are sharply prominent); a roofscape; or a still-life which includes architectural fragments or castings of ornament.

Of course, photography and Modern architecture are even more intimate: from the very beginnings of Modernism, its advocates have used dramatically composed photographs to spread the gospel, publicize, and persuade. Indeed, a number of architectural photographers have themselves become legendary (at least within the architectural community). Some of the most prominent examples would be: Ezra Stoller, G. E. Kidder Smith, Julius Shulman, and Yukio Fukazawa. Also, a number of distinguished Modern architects and designers have shown a personal passion for photography, getting behind the camera themselves - and that would include Frank Lloyd Wright, Charles Eames, László Moholy-Nagy, and Le Corbusier.

Joe Polowczuk is in that great tradition: A trained architect, who has been working in New York for the past 20 years, he explains that he

“… naturally gravitated towards documenting the built environment for my own projects and other design peers. I strive to provide the finest images for my clients using a keen eye for composition, and the most up to date technical methods available with digital imaging.”

He won a distinguished award in 2012: the New York City Landmarks Conservancy, Lucy G. Moses Preservation Award, for his work on the Banner Building (in New York’s NoHo Historic District.)

His design-oriented photography includes work that includes both architecture and interiors (offices, residential, hospitality, and retail). He has also caught the most beautiful images of moving water and of surfing (his main non-architectural pleasure, he admits!)

The Paul Rudolph Heritage Foundation was so impressed with Joe Polowczuk’s work that we commissioned him photograph our headquarters building - the Modulightor Building - and also make photographs of the Paul Rudolph-designed chair [which the Foundation is now reproducing, using Rudolph’s original dimensions & details, and offering to interested collectors - see: https://www.paulrudolphheritagefoundation.org/shop/paul-rudolph-rolling-armchair

To see works from Joe Polowczuk’s luminous portfolio, you can visit his website:

https://www.joepolowczuk.com/

and his Instagram page:

https://www.instagram.com/jpolowczuk_photography/

But, for this moment, you might enjoy these works of Joe’s:

MIES & RUDOLPH: A MYSTERY—SOLVED!

At the upper-left is a photo of Mies van der Rohe, taken during in 1958 during a review of student work at Yale.    Image: The picture, by James Righter, is as shown on a spread from “Pedagogy and Place” by Robert A. M. Stern and Jimmy Stamp—the authoritative book on the history of the architecture program at Yale.

At the upper-left is a photo of Mies van der Rohe, taken during in 1958 during a review of student work at Yale.

Image: The picture, by James Righter, is as shown on a spread from “Pedagogy and Place” by Robert A. M. Stern and Jimmy Stamp—the authoritative book on the history of the architecture program at Yale.

The great architect, Mies van der Rohe (1886-1969), surrounded by students—and, among them, the already distinguished Phyllis Lambert. But what was the occasion and setting?—and whose arm it that, coming from the photo’s left edge?     The Canadian Center for Architecture (CCA) did some work on the photo, and the sliver of a face at the upper-left (the owner of that mysterious arm) began to become clearer.    Photo: Paul Rudolph Heritage Foundation archives, with grateful acknowledgment for the photographic enhancement work done by the Canadian Center for Architecture (CCA).

The great architect, Mies van der Rohe (1886-1969), surrounded by students—and, among them, the already distinguished Phyllis Lambert. But what was the occasion and setting?—and whose arm it that, coming from the photo’s left edge? The Canadian Center for Architecture (CCA) did some work on the photo, and the sliver of a face at the upper-left (the owner of that mysterious arm) began to become clearer.

Photo: Paul Rudolph Heritage Foundation archives, with grateful acknowledgment for the photographic enhancement work done by the Canadian Center for Architecture (CCA).

LOST—AND FOUND

Things get lost: keys, glasses, papers, treasure…. Particularly the kind of papers that are, themselves, “treasures”: documents that give us insight into a historical situation, or proof of an extraordinary occurrence, of photos that establish a significant connection.

In the archives of the Paul Rudolph Heritage Foundation, we recently came across such a treasure: a tiny, vintage, color snapshot—the image size being no bigger than a couple of inches across. The scene shows the great Modern architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, seated at the right side of a table. Behind him are several figures—students, we believe—and one of them is Phyllis Lambert. [Phyllis Lambert has made many profound contributions to architecture—not the least of which was to move her family to select Mies to design the Seagram Building. Later, she went on to attend architecture school, practice architecture, and found the great Canadian Centre for Architecture (CCA).]

In front of Mies, on that table, is a drawing—and, reaching out from the left side of the photo is an arm, pointing to the drawing.

But whose arm? And where and under what circumstances was the photo taken? And what’s all this got to do with Rudolph?

We decided to investigate! But—before we reveal what we contend are the answers—it’s worth reviewing a few Mies-Rudolph connections.

MIES AND RUDOLPH

In one of our earlier posts, “The Seagram Building—By Rudolph?” we wrote about how Rudolph was—very briefly—on the list of the many architects that were considered for the Seagram Building. And in another post, “Paul Rudolph: Designs for Feed and Speed,” we showed both Mies’s and Rudolph’s comparable designs for highway/roadside restaurants.

We were also intrigued to learn that Paul Rudolph had been asked to be Mies’s successor at IIT! This is mentioned in “Pedagogy and Place” by Robert A. M. Stern and Jimmy Stamp, the grand history of Yale’s architecture program. That information-packed volume covers a century of architectural education, 1916-2016—and includes a large chapter devoted to the era when Rudolph was chair of the Architecture department (1958-1965).

The book relates:

Yet even before the Yale appointment, Rudolph was so respected as an architect-teacher, despite his youth, that in 1955 he was asked to succeed Mies van der Rohe as head of the architecture program at the Illinois Institute of Technology.

Rudolph did initially agree to take the position, but a few weeks later withdrew. It’s tantalizing to muse about what might have happened to mid-century architectural culture—especially in America—had he gone ahead to become head of ITT’s program. [One thing for sure: there would have been no Yale Art & Architecture Building—and the world would have been deprived of one of the greatest of Modern architectural icons.]

MIES’S VISIT TO YALE

At the age of 39, Paul Rudolph received his appointment to become chair of Yale’s architecture school and took office in 1958—a very young age, in that era, for such a position. One of the ways that he began to energize the school was to bring in a great diversity of instructors and guest critics (“jurors”)—and the book lists names of the many luminaries that he invited to the school: practitioners, teachers, and historians that were either already famous, or would later become so. Among them: James Stirling, Philip Johnson, Peter Smithson, Alison Smithson, Reyner Banham, Bernard Rudolfky, Ulrich Franzen, Edward Larrabee Barnes, John Johansen, Ward Bennett, Craig Elwood, and Sibyl Moholy-Nagy. Stern and Stamp also note:

…with the help of Phyllis B. Lambert (b. 1927), a reluctant Mies van der Rohe came to New Haven as a visiting critic for a portion of the fall 1958 term.

And among the book’s copious illustrations, there’s a photograph of Mies reviewing the work of Yale students.

Timothy M. Rohan’s magisterial study of Paul Rudolph’s life and work, The Architecture of Paul Rudolph, also mentions Mies’s visit.

OUR PHOTO…

In attempting to identify the owner of the arm, in our mysterious photo, we looked at it with a magnifying eye loupe. Rudolph was known for his tweedy suits, sometimes in earth-tone hues or grays—or something approaching a blending of the two. Under magnification, the material of the jacket sleeve which clothes that arm seemed to have the right color and texture—but, beyond that observation, we couldn’t arrive at much of a conclusion.

So we reached out to Ms. Lambert: we sent a scan of the photo and asked if she recalled whose arm it might be, the occasion of the photo, and whether it might have been made during a visit by Rudolph to IIT—or—a  visit by Mies to Yale.

Phyllis Lambert graciously responded, via her executive assistant, who sent us the below note:

Ms. Lambert Lambert has seen the snapshot and below are her comments:

 I cannot identify the students. I was at Yale from when Rudolph was dean and Mies visited for a few days at that time. And I also saw Albers walking in the street and talked briefly with him. To my knowledge, Rudolph never came to IIT when I was there.

 That overlaps with what is in Stern’s and Stamp’s book, and Rohan’s, about Mies coming to Yale. Moreover, we’ve also never heard of any visits by Rudolph to IIT.

But there’s more. Ms. Lambert’s executive assistant had a further gift for us, and she writes:

About the picture size and luminosity:

Attached is a scan of the picture we worked on a bit, bigger and with more luminosity which reveals a bit of the unidentified person’s face.

Here’s the enhanced version which they sent:

We think we've solved the mystery of who is on the left side of the photo---as the text of our article reveals. Photo: Paul Rudolph Heritage Foundation archives, with grateful acknowledgment for the photographic enhancement work done by the Canadian Center for Architecture (CCA).

We think we've solved the mystery of who is on the left side of the photo---as the text of our article reveals.
Photo: Paul Rudolph Heritage Foundation archives, with grateful acknowledgment for the photographic enhancement work done by the Canadian Center for Architecture (CCA).

Before the CCA did their enhancements, we really hadn’t noticed the “sliver” of face (the owner of that arm!) in the upper-left edge of the photograph—but we’re very glad to have it pointed-out to us. What can we see there?  A bit of a forward-leaning crest of hair, and a part of the face below—mainly the forehead. Hmmm. Well, one of the most prominent aspects of Rudolph’s post-World War II “look” was his crewcut, whose front silhouette included a small forward prow of hair—and that sat over a high forehead (with dark, curved eyebrows.)

Here’s a prime example, a well-known photograph of Rudolph which show those characteristics well:

A photographic portrait of Paul Rudolph:    Photo: from the archives of the Paul Rudolph Heritage Foundation

A photographic portrait of Paul Rudolph:

Photo: from the archives of the Paul Rudolph Heritage Foundation

Over the years, we’ve looked at nearly every known photograph of Rudolph. Comparing those photos (like the one above) to the bits of head in our snapshot, we think we see a possible match.

So might that be Paul Rudolph, emerging at the left edge of the snapshot?

Here’s a summary of the evidence:

  • Mies at Yale (invited by Rudolph when he was chair): The historical record establishes that as true.

  • Mies at Yale, with Phyllis Lambert:  Ms. Lambert recalls that.

  • Clothing:  The arm’s jacket sleeve material’s color and texture appear to match Rudolph’s well-known “uniform”.

  • Hair:  The front crest of hair, shown in the snapshot, matches known photo portraits of Rudolph

  • Forehead:  Ditto

  • Eyebrows:  Ditto

Conclusion: This is likely the only known photograph of Mies and Rudolph together.

Mystery solved? We think so!


Discovered: A Little-known Interview with Paul Rudolph

Paul Rudolph in Florida, on the upper deck of the lookout tower of a building he designed: the Sanderling Beach Club, Siesta Key (photo taken circa 1953).    Photo: Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division, Paul Rudolph Archive

Paul Rudolph in Florida, on the upper deck of the lookout tower of a building he designed: the Sanderling Beach Club, Siesta Key (photo taken circa 1953).

Photo: Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division, Paul Rudolph Archive

Little known? Well, to us—until we discovered it in the Winter 1983 issue of FLORIDA ARCHITECT, the journal of the Florida Association of the American Institute of Architects.

The magazine is still very much alive, and is full of fascinating content—and is now known as    Florida/Caribbean ARCHITECT   .

The magazine is still very much alive, and is full of fascinating content—and is now known as Florida/Caribbean ARCHITECT.

In 1982, Paul Rudolph was a member of the jury for the Florida Architect / AIA Design Awards—and, on that trip, also spoke in Tampa at the Fall Design Conference. His Florida visit was the occasion for the journal to have an interview with Rudolph, conducted by the Tampa-based architect Jan Abell.

That issue also included an article on the “Sarasota School”, illustrated with work by Rudolph (the Milam Residence), Jack West, Gene Leedy, William Rupp, Victor Lundy, and Mark Hampton (several of whom were “veterans” of Rudolph’s office.) It even included a photo of Rudolph with other members of the “school”, taken at the Design Conference.

Rudolph with other founders of the “Sarasota School,” at the 1982 FA/AIA DESIGN CONFERENCE in Tampa, Florida. From left-to-right: Victor Lundy, Gene Leedy, William Rupp, Tim Siebert, Bert Brosmith, and Paul Rudolph.    Image: courtesy of FLORIDA ARCHITECT, Winter 1983

Rudolph with other founders of the “Sarasota School,” at the 1982 FA/AIA DESIGN CONFERENCE in Tampa, Florida. From left-to-right: Victor Lundy, Gene Leedy, William Rupp, Tim Siebert, Bert Brosmith, and Paul Rudolph.

Image: courtesy of FLORIDA ARCHITECT, Winter 1983

As many of our readers know, Rudolph’s career can be divided—at least geographically—into 3 phases, each based on where his primary office and home was located:

·         FLORIDA, starting in the late 1940’s –to–  1958:  the opening phase of his career, and the period when he came to national prominence for his fresh and creative design work

·         NEW HAVEN, from 1958  –to– 1965:   the span when he was Chair of Yale’s architecture school—during which he also had a very active practice (which he had relocated from Florida to New Haven)

·         NEW YORK CITY, from 1965  –to– 1997:   where, after his time at Yale, he moved (and worked) for the rest of his life. Although Rudolph ultimately developed an international practice, he was based in NYC during all those years, until his passing.

This interview was conducted long after Rudolph’s Florida phase. The conversation starts by acknowledging that it had been some time since he had returned to Florida—but then it quickly moves on to the topics that really animated Rudolph: the nature of good urbanism, issues of scale, and the essentials of good architecture.

Rudolph FA Article.JPG

We are grateful to the AIA Florida, and especially to their Chief Operating officer, Becky Magdaleno, for permission to reproduce the full text of this interview—which we present here.

[Note: we have maintained the spelling, grammar, and punctuation, as it originally appeared in the article.]

FLORIDA ARCHITECT Interviews: Paul Rudolph

"The built environment is too important to leave to architects.”

October 10, 1982

Florida Architect:  It's been a long time since you've been back to Florida after working here for so long. Were you surprised by the way the State has changed?

Rudolph:  Well, it shouldn't be a surprise, but, of course, you do remember things in certain ways. The sheer volume of building, not just high rise, but everything, is very different and one has to be surprised.

FA:  I'd like to talk a little about building scale. One of the firms which won a design award this year was Arquitectonica. Their Overseas Tower was described by the jurors as a good piece of highway architecture. This highway network of ours is a relatively new growth area with a very different scale from that found in the city. It's a scale that many of us are not used to working with and think in some ways it is not as enjoyable a scale as the one you were working with in Sarasota.

Rudolph:  I wonder, when you make that statement, if you're not hiding under a bush. My thesis is that the population explosion isn't over yet. No one is going to give up his car or the public transportation system. The number of people living in our cities just hasn't reached its peak. There is no way, of course, that architects can determine such a thing. But, it does take architects to find solutions to the problems created by expanding cities and highway systems. In that way, society determines what architects do. Architects often think it's the other way around, but it isn't. So, with regard to your comment about the scale of the work in Sarasota being a more enjoyable scale than say, highway architecture, I don't agree. I don't think that bigness is bad or that small is beautiful,

FA:  When you left Florida, was it because you saw what was going on around the rest of the country and you wanted to contribute to a new scale that was being tried?

Rudolph:  No. The reason why I left Florida was extremely complicated and had nothing to do with that. I did then, and still do, want to work on very large projects. I think it's wrong, as is frequently done here, to deplore the fact that Siesta Key has lots of highrise buildings. The real question is what kind of highrise buildings and how are they placed in relationship to one another,

FA:  I certainly agree with that. And the reality of the fact, here in Florida at least, is that everyone wants to be on the beach. If we're going to put all those people on the beach, then our buildings have to go up higher and higher. Single-family bungalows just can't do it anymore. But I repeat my earlier question which is 'do I really have to accept that this is the way society should be going?

Rudolph:  I am giving the Walter Gropius lecture at Harvard next week and I am going to talk about essentially this very thing. I’m going to talk about urbanism, and my thesis about it has to do with a lack of understanding of scale. I think this is one of the dreadful things that architects have fallen into … thinking that it's big and therefore it's bad. I really don't agree with that.

FA:  I agree that a large building can be very human and urbanism very exciting and that together they create something that nothing else can. I am wondering though, if that is what's happening here in Tampa for example.

Rudolph:  The problem, in any city, is not whether the buildings are large or small. When you posed that question to me, you alluded to "a large building". What I am concerned about is groups of buildings, not single isolated structures. We build too many isolated structures which, whether big or small, sit all unto themselves. They are unrelated to the next building in any way. Since there is no real theory about how to interconnect these buildings, each remains isolated, a law unto itself. When I look at the great architecture of the past, I find that it wasn't that way at all. There was every much a professional assembly of buildings and I think that's what we need to get back to.

FA:  In a lot of ways what we're talking about is planning. Do you agree?

Rudolph:  Yes, but you can’t throw it all off on the planners, either. Just establishing a planning code or a set of rules doesn’t make an environment. What it takes is ideas and sensitivity and the lack of coordination within our cities is not exclusively the fault of the planners.

FA:  I don't think would try to blame it on the planners, but I think in any city you need a good planning basis.

Rudolph:  I see it this way. Say that a throughway is needed through the middle of a city. The project is essentially executed by transportation engineers. Frequently the project becomes a political hot potato concerning where the road can or cannot be put based on so-called "feasibility studies." All of this sort of thing takes its own toll and eventually the road takes it's own form. It may be well done or not so well done. But, what's left is for the people to react to the project and patch up whatever can be patched up. It’s a natural follow through. One of Michelangelo}s greatest buildings, the Campidoglio in Rome, is really a patch up—a remodeling. There were a lot of helter skelter medieval buildings all around and Michelangelo remodeled the Campidoglio into one of the world's great works of architecture. There is nothing wrong with that.

FA:  There was a kind of purity of structure that is very obvious to me in the early work in Sarasota. Do you think that it is almost an exercise that architects have to go through where they are totally fascinated with structure, and then with space and then with scale?

Rudolph:  The essence of architecture for me is the appropriate psychology of space. As a matter of fact, my definition of architecture is that it is used space modified to satisfy man's psychological needs. How you achieve that space can be done in a lot of different ways. And that, of course, has to do with structure. I don't want to say that structure isn't important, I am just saying that it is secondary to the impression the building creates. I do, however, agree with your statement to the extent that I think in the early days in Sarasota architects were more concerned with how to put things together, how to connect to a column and so forth.

FA:  Recently a forum was held in Tampa on the status of the arts. A panel of a dozen people was assembled, not one of which was an architect. I think that sums up the way a lot of people feel about architecture, that it isn’t an art form at all, it's a function. Many people seem to feel that architecture is little more than frivolous space … expensive frivolous space. If architects are now being relegated to the position of being little more than builders, because of the economy or whatever, then what is the point of being an architect?

Rudolph:  I don't agree with your assessment. Not at all. I think the built environment is too important to be left to the architects. History shows that vernacular buildings can rise to tremendous aesthetic heights. The medieval hill towns, the Ponte Vecchio, none of these had architects, and they were all great contributions to the environment. One problem is that architects don't understand their role in society and, admittedly, it’s complicated. I do have great faith in the people and I think that too many architects ignore what the people want and need from architecture. Architecture is a matter of imagination, intellect and will. I'm sad that we architects get confused by making great works of art rather than what the people need.

FA:  My response to that is that I do believe that as a city develops, we architects have a wonderful opportunity to create great space and wonderful scale.

Rudolph:  But, we have to find other ways of handling simple things like the space between the parked car and the entrance to the building. I feel very dismal that that sort of thing has been overlooked for too long and I sometimes feel that it would be better left to the engineers. The whole circulation system that is created in a city dictates the way people perceive their environment. If parking is a problem and it takes thirty minutes to get from the car to the building then that perception is not good. Kennedy Airport is a classic example. Here we have the gateway to this country and it is all out of scale and difficult to navigate. It's just unfortunate that for many people that is the first thing they see of this country.

FA:  I'd like to ask you about building ornament. Do today’s architects know how to decorate their buildings?

Rudolph:  There is something innate about people having a need to decorate. In my opinion, we really don't know how to decorate. And, again, that has to do with scale. Decoration, quite obviously, gives meaning to a building. All the great architects through history have used decoration, including Wright and Corbusier. I think that decoration is particularly important for public commemoration and that the people need to suggest what the ornament should be. Public ornament and public sculpture may be the solution to the very things that our cities need, i.e. a sense of scale and less isolation and loneliness of one building to another. Historically man has done much better with his cities and I don't know why we can't today.

Jan Abell is a principal in her own Architectural firm, Jan Abell Architects, Tampa, Florida and is currently involved in the organization of the Architecture Club of Tampa.

Rudolph's Shoreline Apartments in Buffalo - an Artist Responds - Artistically!

“Disposable: Shoreline Apartment Complex Unit”  Plastic canvas, acrylic yarn, tissue box, 8 X 16.5 X 21 inches, 2016.    An artwork by Buffalo-born & based, fiber artist Kurt Treeby. This is his depiction of Paul Rudolph’s    Shoreline Apartments    in Buffalo. It is part of a set of works by Treeby, the “Disposable” series, involving—in the artists recounting—“thousands of precise stitches, all sewn by hand…”    Photo:    www.kurttreeby.com

“Disposable: Shoreline Apartment Complex Unit” Plastic canvas, acrylic yarn, tissue box, 8 X 16.5 X 21 inches, 2016.

An artwork by Buffalo-born & based, fiber artist Kurt Treeby. This is his depiction of Paul Rudolph’s Shoreline Apartments in Buffalo. It is part of a set of works by Treeby, the “Disposable” series, involving—in the artists recounting—“thousands of precise stitches, all sewn by hand…”

Photo: www.kurttreeby.com

SHORELINE APARTMENTS IN BUFFALO

Shoreline Apartments is a fascinating complex of residences on Niagara Street in Buffalo, NY, completed  in 1974 to the designs of Paul Rudolph. To say that it “is” is a bit problematic, because the entire set of residences is slated for demolition - and, as of this writing, about half of the complex still exists (but how long that extant portion will remain is unknown.)

“Rudolph’s original scheme, composed of monumental, terraced, prefabricated housing structures, provided an ambitious alternative to high-rise dwelling that was meant to recall the complexity and intimacy of old European settlements.” – Nick Miller, in The Architect’s Newspaper

“Rudolph’s original scheme, composed of monumental, terraced, prefabricated housing structures, provided an ambitious alternative to high-rise dwelling that was meant to recall the complexity and intimacy of old European settlements.” – Nick Miller, in The Architect’s Newspaper

Here’s a good, concise background on the project, as reported by Nick Miller in The Architect’s Newspaper (November 5, 2013):

[Arthur] Drexler exhibited Rudolph’s original, much more dramatic scheme for Buffalo’s Shoreline Apartments alongside pending projects by Philip Johnson and Kevin Roche in an exhibition entitled Work in Progress. The projects on display were compiled to represent a commitment “to the idea that architecture, besides being technology, sociology and moral philosophy, must finally produce works of art.”

Completed in 1972, the 142-unit low-income housing development was featured in both the September 1972 issue of Architectural Record as well as the 1970 exhibition at New York’s Museum of Modern Art. Like many of their contemporaries, the inventive, complex forms and admirable social aspirations of the development have been overshadowed by disrepair, crime, and startling vacancy rates (30 percent in 2006 according to Buffalo Rising).

The Shoreline Apartments that stand today represent a scaled down version of the original plan. Featuring shed roofs, ribbed concrete exteriors, projecting balconies and enclosed gardens, the project combined Rudolph’s spatial radicalism with experiments in human-scaled, low-rise, high-density housing developments. The project’s weaving, snake-like site plan was meant to create active communal green spaces, but, like those of most if its contemporaries, the spaces went unused, fracturing the fabric of Buffalo.

Here’s an image of a portion of the Shoreline complex, as built:

The Shorelines Apartments in 1975, shortly after opening. The large Art Deco skyscraper, at the rear-right, is Buffalo’s City Hall.    Image: Courtesy of EPA/Library of Congress

The Shorelines Apartments in 1975, shortly after opening. The large Art Deco skyscraper, at the rear-right, is Buffalo’s City Hall.

Image: Courtesy of EPA/Library of Congress

THE ARTIST:  KURT TREEBY

Mr. Treeby, a fiber artist that’s a native of Buffalo (and who is based here), does fascinating work, and—on his website—you can find his own text on his career, from which we quote:

Kurt Treeby first studied art at the College of Art and Design at Alfred University. While at Alfred he studied painting, drawing, and art history. After receiving his MFA from Syracuse University Treeby develped a conceptual-based approach to art making that continues to develop as he works with a wide range of fiber and textile processes. His work comments of the production and reception of art, as well as the role art plays in our collective memories. He focuses on iconic imagery and the connection between so-called "high" and "low" art forms. Treeby has exhibited his work on a national and international level. He teaches studio art and art appreciation at the College at Brockport, State University of New York, and Erie Community College.

KURT TREEBY’S “DISPOSABLE” SERIES

The artist has done a series of artworks, each of which is a significant building (or complex of buildings) that has been demolished—or, like Shoreline, is on the way to being demolished. Among the building’s he’s focused on are: The Larkin Building (by Frank Lloyd Wright), BEST Products Showrooms (by SITE), the Niagara Falls Wintergarden (by Cesar Pelli), and various other structures. The one he did, of a  portion of the Shoreline, captures the Paul Rudolph’s design very nicely!

Here are some excerpts from Mr. Treeby’s beautiful and sensitive artistic statement on his work—and this series in particular:

Every city includes a variety of structures including historical landmarks, industrial factories, and utilitarian homes. My work examines the architectural ecosystem of production, consumption, and destruction embedded into the social, economic, and physical landscape of cities, reimagining a future apart from their industrial or commercial past.

Focusing on iconic structures, I faithfully replicate architectural and structural details from an alchemy of historical records and collective memory. I recreate these buildings in plastic canvas and craft-store yarn, amplifying the tension between fine art and craft. The final sculptures function as the visual embodiment of the restoration process, as historical records, and as personal memories; all imperfect and incomplete.

I use the medium of plastic canvas because it is rooted in domestic crafts. Traditionally, the medium is used to construct decorative covers resembling quaint cottages or holiday-themed houses for disposable items like tissues and paper napkins. Unlike the fantastical commercial patterns, my sculptures are often larger, replicating complex buildings that have been demolished or significantly altered over time. Because I cannot always experience the original structures, I combine archival records and satellite imagery to help me understand the building’s original site.

The hours spent on each piece are a meditation and a reflection on loss. Engaging in this meticulous process is my way of paying tribute to the original architects. My imperfect buildings act a stand in for the original, and as monuments to memory itself.


We urge you to visit Kurt Treeby’s website, and explore his movingly intriguing work for yourself: http://kurttreeby.com

Paul Rudolph Centennial Exhibit Catalogs Selected for the Library of Congress Collection

60686-library-of-congress.png

THE NATION’S LIBRARY

It’s a special place—and an immense resource. Let’s have its head—the “Librarian of Congress” herself, Carla Hayden—describe it succinctly:

                The Library of Congress is the largest library in the world, with millions of books, recordings, photographs, newspapers, maps and manuscripts in its collections. The Library is the main research arm of the U.S. Congress and the home of the U.S. Copyright Office.

                The Library preserves and provides access to a rich, diverse and enduring source of knowledge to inform, inspire and engage you in your intellectual and creative endeavors. Whether you are new to the Library of Congress or an experienced researcher, we have a world-class staff ready to assist you online and in person.

THE LIBRARY AND PAUL RUDOLPH

The Library of CongressPrints and Photographs Division holds the world’s largest collection of Paul Rudolph papers: their Paul Marvin Rudolph archive is comprised of hundreds-of-thousands of Rudolph drawings & documents. It is an indispensable source for anyone doing serious research on Rudolph. The Paul Rudolph Heritage Foundation has been greatly benefited by the Library’s gracious help—particularly from the head of their Prints and Photographs Division, Ms. Mari Nakahara. Our recent exhibit, Paul Rudolph: The Personal Laboratory, was meaningfully enriched by being able to utilize images from the Library of Congress’ collection—and we continue to do research there, hoping to help share this immense source of Rudolph-ian creativity and knowledge.

OUR CONTRIBUTION

2018 was Paul Rudolph’s centenary year, and—to celebrate that—“Paul Rudolph: The Personal Laboratory” and “Paul Rudolph: The Hong Kong Journey” were exhibits mounted by the Paul Rudolph Heritage Foundation. The Library of Congress helped greatly in making our exhibition program a success—and we have now made a contribution back— We send them a set of our exhibit catalogs:

The “Personal Laboratory” and the “Hong Kong Journey” catalogs were produced in association with the two corresponding exhibits that were mounted by the Paul Rudolph Heritage Foundation. The set is    available through Amazon   .    Photo: The Paul Rudolph Heritage Foundation

The “Personal Laboratory” and the “Hong Kong Journey” catalogs were produced in association with the two corresponding exhibits that were mounted by the Paul Rudolph Heritage Foundation. The set is available through Amazon.

Photo: The Paul Rudolph Heritage Foundation

We’re happy to announce that we’ve just received an official response from the head of the Library of Congress’ Monographs Section: the catalogs have been “selected for addition” to the library’s collection. We are glad to have these publications be a part of the nation’s greatest library!

Rudolph Centennial Exhibit Catalogs: Now Available Through Amazon

This pair of catalogs was produced in association with the Paul Rudolph Heritage Foundation’s two exhibits, celebrating Rudolph’s 100th centenary year, 2018. They are available as a set—   and now: easily purchased through Amazon   .    Photo: Paul Rudolph Heritage Foundation

This pair of catalogs was produced in association with the Paul Rudolph Heritage Foundation’s two exhibits, celebrating Rudolph’s 100th centenary year, 2018. They are available as a set—and now: easily purchased through Amazon.

Photo: Paul Rudolph Heritage Foundation

CELEBRATING A MAGNIFICENTLY CREATIVE ARCHITECT’S 100TH BIRTHDAY

Paul Rudolph (1918-1997) would have been 100 in 2018, and—to recognize & celebrate that—the Paul Rudolph Heritage Foundation mounted two exhibits: Paul Rudolph: The Personal Laboratory and Paul Rudolph: The Hong Kong Journey.

This pair of exhibits (and Rudolph’s increasing recognition) were praised in an article in The New York Times. The bad news is that both exhibits have closed—but the good news is that the pair of catalogs—well illustrated records of the exhibit, supplemented by additional fascinating material—have been published by the PRHF.

“The Personal Laboratory” exhibit focused on the homes and workspaces that Rudolph crated for himself, wherever he settled. It’s catalog is richly illustrated, containing much of that material—as well as fascinating documents & memoirs of people who knew and worked for Rudolph.    Photo: Paul Rudolph Heritage Foundation

“The Personal Laboratory” exhibit focused on the homes and workspaces that Rudolph crated for himself, wherever he settled. It’s catalog is richly illustrated, containing much of that material—as well as fascinating documents & memoirs of people who knew and worked for Rudolph.

Photo: Paul Rudolph Heritage Foundation

“The Hong Kong Journey” exhibit focused on work that Paul Rudolph did in Hong Kong. In the last decade-and-a-half of his career, Rudolph was called upon by clients in Asia: Hong Kong, Jakarta, and Singapore—and he built large and significant in that part of the world. In Hong Kong you can see the pair of remarkable skyscrapers he designed: the Bond Centre (a.k.a. the Lippo Centre). They, and several other very intriguing projects were the focus of the exhibit, which also includes interesting essays by Rudolph’s Hong Kong associate, Nora Leung; as well as an introduction by Robert de Alba.    Photo: Paul Rudolph Heritage Foundation

“The Hong Kong Journey” exhibit focused on work that Paul Rudolph did in Hong Kong. In the last decade-and-a-half of his career, Rudolph was called upon by clients in Asia: Hong Kong, Jakarta, and Singapore—and he built large and significant in that part of the world. In Hong Kong you can see the pair of remarkable skyscrapers he designed: the Bond Centre (a.k.a. the Lippo Centre). They, and several other very intriguing projects were the focus of the exhibit, which also includes interesting essays by Rudolph’s Hong Kong associate, Nora Leung; as well as an introduction by Robert de Alba.

Photo: Paul Rudolph Heritage Foundation

NOW MORE EASILY AVAILABLE

The catalogs are sold as a set—and have been available through the Paul Rudolph Heritage Foundation’s website’s “Shop” page—and continue to be.

But now they are now also easily orderable through AMAZON—at this page:

https://www.amazon.com/dp/1792304218/ref=sr_1_fkmrnull_1?keywords=Paul+Rudolph+personal+laboratory&qid=1554318008&s=books&sr=1-1-fkmrnull

Many people prefer the ease of shopping though Amazon—and we are pleased to the catalogs available by this method too.

Image: Amazon.com

Image: Amazon.com

TWO RESIDENCES BY PAUL RUDOLPH LISTED WITH THE NATIONAL REGISTER OF HISTORIC PLACES

Paul Rudolph’s “Umbrella House” from 1953—as seen in 2018. Photo: Kelvin Dickinson, Paul Rudolph Heritage Foundation Archives

Paul Rudolph’s “Umbrella House” from 1953—as seen in 2018. Photo: Kelvin Dickinson, Paul Rudolph Heritage Foundation Archives

Paul Rudolph’s Fullam Residence, from 1959. Photo: Chris Mottalini and Eric Wolff

Paul Rudolph’s Fullam Residence, from 1959. Photo: Chris Mottalini and Eric Wolff

SOME GREAT NEWS

When there’s news about any of Rudolph’s buildings, it’s not always good: too often, we’ve heard about the act (or plan) to demo or damage one of Paul Rudolph’s great designs. But sometimes there is delightful news: for example, the recent purchase of Rudolph’s Hirsch (a.k.a. Halston) Residence by Tom Ford—and Mr. Ford’s stated intention to restore it—which you read about in one of our recent posts, is an example of great news about a Rudolph building!

Now we have some more good news!

Two of Rudolph’s most interesting residential designs—the Fullam Residence (in Bucks County, PA) and the “Umbrella House” (in Sarasota, FL) have been listed on the National Register of Historic Places !

THE UMBRELLA HOUSE

Readers of this Blog may have come across our article about Rudolph’s “Umbrella House”—but in case you haven’t seen it, you can read it (and learn a great deal about this fascinating design) here.

The “Weekly List” of the National Register of Historic Places now shows that it is listed with them. Here’s the page on which this is announced.

And the official listing reads:

FLORIDA, SARASOTA COUNTY,
Umbrella House,
1300 Westway Dr.,
Sarasota, MP100003417,
LISTED, 2/4/2019
(Sarasota School of Architecture MPS)

THE FULLAM RESIDENCE

The “Weekly List” of the National Register for Historic Places shows that it now listed with them. Here’s the page on which this is announced.

And the official listing reads:

PENNSYLVANIA, BUCKS COUNTY,
Fullam, John and Alice, House,
372 Brownsburg Rd.,
Wrightstown Township, SG100003519,
LISTED, 3/15/2019

By-the-way:

This is a good moment to make a note on the house’s (and original client’s) correct name. The accurate spelling is: Fullam (as shown in the National Register listing above). We only point this out because one sometimes sees it listed as “Fulham”—and that’s led to some confusion when doing research.

ABOUT BEING LISTED ON THE NATIONAL REGISTER

WHAT CRITERIA FOR EVALUATION ARE USED, WHEN THEY CONSIDER A BUILDING, SITE, OR STRUCTURE FOR “LISTING”?

Let’s let the National Park Service (of which the National Register is a part) speak for themselves. The range of possible reasons for listing are fascinatingly varied—and here is their document about “NATIONAL REGISTER CRITERIA FOR EVALUATION”:

Criteria for Evaluation

The quality of significance in American history, architecture, archaeology, engineering, and culture is present in districts, sites, buildings, structures, and objects that possess integrity of location, design, setting, materials, workmanship, feeling, and association, and:

  • That are associated with events that have made a significant contribution to the broad patterns of our history; or

  • That are associated with the lives of significant persons in our past; or

  • That embody the distinctive characteristics of a type, period, or method of construction, or that represent the work of a master, or that possess high artistic values, or that represent a significant and distinguishable entity whose components may lack individual distinction; or

  • That have yielded or may be likely to yield, information important in history or prehistory.

Criteria Considerations

Ordinarily cemeteries, birthplaces, graves of historical figures, properties owned by religious institutions or used for religious purposes, structures that have been moved from their original locations, reconstructed historic buildings, properties primarily commemorative in nature, and properties that have achieved significance within the past 50 years shall not be considered eligible for the National Register. However, such properties will qualify if they are integral parts of districts that do meet the criteria or if they fall within the following categories:

  • A religious property deriving primary significance from architectural or artistic distinction or historical importance; or

  • A building or structure removed from its original location but which is primarily significant for architectural value, or which is the surviving structure most importantly associated with a historic person or event; or

  • A birthplace or grave of a historical figure of outstanding importance if there is no appropriate site or building associated with his or her productive life; or

  • A cemetery that derives its primary importance from graves of persons of transcendent importance, from age, from distinctive design features, or from association with historic events; or

  • A reconstructed building when accurately executed in a suitable environment and presented in a dignified manner as part of a restoration master plan, and when no other building or structure with the same association has survived; or

  • A property primarily commemorative in intent if design, age, tradition, or symbolic value has invested it with its own exceptional significance; or

  • A property achieving significance within the past 50 years if it is of exceptional importance.

WHAT IS THE PROCESS FOR A BUILDING TO BE “LISTED” ON THE NATIONAL REGISTER OF HISTORIC PLACES—AND WHAT DOES IT MEAN?

Once again, we’ll let them speak for themselves. The following is excerpted from their own information pages:

The National Register of Historic Places is the official list of the nation's historic places worthy of preservation. Authorized by the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966, the National Park Service's National Register of Historic Places is part of a national program to coordinate and support public and private efforts to identify, evaluate, and protect America's historic and archaeological resources.

How are Properties Evaluated?

To be considered eligible, a property must meet the National Register Criteria for Evaluation. This involves examining the property’s age, significance, and integrity.

  • Age and Integrity:  Is the property old enough to be considered historic (generally at least 50 years old) and does it still look much the way it did in the past?

  • Significance:  Is the property associated with events, activities, or developments that were important in the past? With the lives of people who were important in the past? With significant architectural history, landscape history, or engineering achievements? Does it have the potential to yield information through archaeological investigation about our past?

National Register Listing Process

Proposed nominations are reviewed by your state’s historic preservation office and the state’s National Register Review Board. The length of the state process varies but will take a minimum of 90 days.

Complete nominations, with certifying recommendations, are submitted by the state to the National Park Service in Washington, D.C. for final review and listing by the Keeper of the National Register of Historic Places. The National Park Service makes a listing decision within 45 days.

Results & Owner Information

Listing in the National Register of Historic Places provides formal recognition of a property’s historical, architectural, or archaeological significance based on national standards used by every state.

Results include:

  • Becoming part of the National Register Archives, a public, searchable database that provides a wealth of research information

  • Encouraging preservation of historic resources by documenting a property’s historic significance

  • Providing opportunities for preservation incentives, such as:

  • Federal preservation grants for planning and rehabilitation

  • Federal investment tax credits

  • Preservation easements to nonprofit organizations

  • International building code fire and life safety code alternatives

  • Possible State tax benefit and grant opportunities. Check with your State Historic Preservation Office for historic property incentives available within your state

  • Involvement by the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation when a Federal agency project may affect historic property

  • Find out information on the care and maintenance of your historic property through various NPS Preservation Briefs and Tech Notes

  • Network with other historic property owners, tour historic areas, or chat with preservationists through Conferences, Workshops, and Preservation Organizations

Tom Ford - and Rudolph's finest townhouse design in New York City

The great fashion designer Halston, enthroned in his living room—within the famous “101”, the townhouse in New York’s Upper East Side neighborhood in Manhattan    Photo by Harry Benson, from a feature on Halston in Life Magazine

The great fashion designer Halston, enthroned in his living room—within the famous “101”, the townhouse in New York’s Upper East Side neighborhood in Manhattan

Photo by Harry Benson, from a feature on Halston in Life Magazine

The elegantly restrained exterior elevation of the house, originally designed by Paul Rudolph in 1966-1967—purchased by Halston in 1974, and now a new home for Tom Ford. Photo: Homedsgn.com

The elegantly restrained exterior elevation of the house, originally designed by Paul Rudolph in 1966-1967—purchased by Halston in 1974, and now a new home for Tom Ford. Photo: Homedsgn.com

IT’S ALL OVER THE INTERNET…

It is all over the internet: a variety of news relating to one of the planet’s most celebrated designers - tho’ he’s much more than that - Tom Ford. It is has just been announced that he’s to be the next chair of an important fashion industry organization, the CFDA (the Council of Fashion Designers of America)

But in Rudolph-related news of Mr. Ford, there’s an even more exciting development. As written in Bridget Foley’s Diary:

                But who doesn’t love a tony real estate angle? Earlier in the day, WWD reported that Ford bought Halston’s famed house on East 63rd Street in New York in a deal that closed in January, but he’d managed to keep quiet until now. It would have been nifty news even had Halston not been a major influence on Ford’s career.

In that article, Mr. Ford was interviewed about the CFDA, his role, the house, and how it all fits into his life and plans. Here’s the section of the interview that is most focused on the house:

WWD: You are very cool with your stardom. Are you ever even a little bit impressed by the general-population interest in you? Someone can attribute a random, made-up quote to you and it sets the Twittersphere on fire?

T.F.: The number-two, most-trending tweet or whatever it is in America today. I just find it crazy. I mean, there are lots more important things to be concerned with today in the news than a quote from a fashion designer about the first lady, but anyway.

WWD: Does it awe you even a little that you have that power?

T.F.: I don’t think of myself that way. I think of myself as a dad who comes to the office and… Maybe it’s because I am grounded every day by [my husband] Richard Buckley, who is not going to let me feel like any sort of a star.

WWD: Point taken. Before we get to the house…

T.F.: Well, let’s just do the house so we can get to the CFDA, the important thing.

WWD: To the house.

T.F.: You did some homework. I felt like it was the Mueller report or something — the same LLC that bought the Betsy Bloomingdale house?

WWD: Old-fashioned reporting by a young reporter, Kathryn Hopkins. Is the purchase of the house at all tied to your CFDA chairmanship?

T.F.: Nooo, not at all. And yes, I did buy the house. I was in that house in 1979 or 1980, only once. I was not a friend of Halston’s, but I was introduced to him and I went by that house with a friend to pick someone up before we were going to Studio 54.

WWD: How old were you?

T.F.: I would’ve been 18. That house, it stunned me. It is and has always been one of the most inspirational houses that I was ever in, and one of the most inspirational interiors. I love [architect] Paul Rudolph. He designed [the Halston] house in 1966 for a pair of gentlemen and then redesigned it when Halston moved in — designed all the furniture. To me, it’s is just one of the great American interiors.

It’s a terrific house in New York. It’s got a garage that flips up. You drive in and the garage closes and it’s like a vault. Yet inside, it’s spectacular. I intend to basically put it back to the way it was the very first time I saw it when Halston lived in it. It’s very simple, very minimal, and there’s not a lot to do. I don’t have to knock down any walls. I basically have to just put in a lot of gray carpeting and the furniture.

I stayed in it when I was in New York the last time [for my fall 2019 ready-to-wear show]. I have sometimes said that New York is not my favorite place. But as [my son] Jack is living in Los Angeles, in the future I want him to know how to wear a pair of real shoes and a jacket and go to a restaurant and go to a play. So it’s a kind of house for the future and for the rest of my life.

WWD: It’s hard to find post-Halston pictures of the interior online. It wasn’t changed much?

T.F.: No there’s not a lot I have to do. It’s been very well-respected. Some very surface changes were made, which I think were a mistake, and so I intend to put it back. But it’s very contemporary, a very modern house. It could have easily been designed today. It’s timeless.

It’s a great piece of architecture and enormously pleasant to be in. I felt instantly at home when I stayed there even though it hasn’t been redone. Hugely comfortable and dead silent inside, yet full of light. You close the door and you forget that you’re right in the middle of New York. It’s wonderful.

WWD: But you’re definitely not moving to New York?

T.F.: No, not at all. I go to New York four or five times a year and for Jack’s school holidays, I’ll be going more. It’s a place to be when I’m in New York.

WWD: One more thing about it. Do you think people will read symbolism into it — Tom Ford buying Halston’s house?

T.F.: It’s fine if they do. I think Halston was one of the greatest American fashion designers. I have always said I was inspired by Halston, his simplicity, his modernity. But I didn’t buy the house because it was Halston’s. I bought the house because I loved the house.

Now, do I share certain design similarities and taste with what Halston liked, a certain streamlined minimalism, certainly with regards to architecture and interiors? Absolutely. So what would have appealed to Halston as a house appeals to me as a house as well. It’s a great house. Inside, it’s one thing. Outside it’s very — what is the word – private. While I was staying there, I had a couple of people come by. I would tell them the address and they’d walk right past it and call me — “where are you?” I’m like, “You just walked past it.” It recedes. It’s enormously private and that’s one of the great appeals.

It’s interesting that it was built for two gay men because, of course, in the mid-Sixties, they wanted to live their life without being observed. And, of course, it worked well for Halston and the things that were going on when he was there. So it’s really a kind of refuge in the middle of New York, which is amazing. And it is so dead quiet. You don’t even hear a horn honk.

By-the-way:   Mr. Ford refers to stopping by the house to pick-up a friend, before going off to the legendary club, Studio 54. This house plays a prominent background role in the glittering social life of late 1970’s New York, as it was the place that Halston, Bianca Jagger, Warhol, and their crew would assemble before proceeding to the world’s most famous disco - and all this is abundantly recorded in The Andy Warhol Diaries.

A GREAT HOUSE AND GREAT DESIGNERS

To celebrate Rudolph’s centenary (1918-2018), the Paul Rudolph Heritage Foundation, recently mounted a centennial exhibit: ‘Paul Rudolph: The Personal Laboratory’. In it, we included images of this house, using it as an example of how Rudolph would apply the lessons (that he’d derived from experimentations in his own homes) to projects for his clients.

About the house, we wrote: 

                This townhouse is in the heart of New York’s Upper-East Side: a neighborhood whose residents are, on average, among the wealthiest in the nation. Situated between a Federal style church and a traditional apartment house, this townhouse was initially designed and built for Alexander Hirsch and Lewis Turner - but it’s most famous resident & owner was the American fashion designer, Halston.

                It was exceptional in a number of ways: Firstly, townhouses of unabashedly Modern design were, in that era, rare in that neighborhood (indeed, anywhere in the city). Secondly, because Rudolph departed from the typical approach to designing the face of a NYC townhouse (which generally manifested as solid brick or masonry, with openings in a gridded pattern). Even Philip Johnson’s design for a townhouse, in the adjacent neighborhood, did not greatly depart from that formula.

                Steel beams, columns, and panels, infilled with glass, are the architectural signature of Mies van der Rohe—but that master hardly ever diverged from arranging them in a homogenous lattice. By contrast, Rudolph’s didn’t just lay-out this façade—he sculpted it, pushing the elements into different planes, and using subtle asymmetries, to give a serene aliveness to this otherwise understated “citizen of the street”. For Rudolph, this sculpting - merging Mies and Mondrian, but taking them to a more sophisticated level of visual complexity - would be further explored in the exteriors of the additions to his own residence at 23 Beekman - and would reach an ultimate rich expression, two decades after the Hirsch Residence, in the Modulightor Building.

                While this house’s exterior may be a precursor of Paul Rudolph’s future ventures, the interiors rely on the “lab results” from his previous residential experiments. This is particularly true when one compares Hirsch to Rudolph’s New Haven home: one can see the precedents for the cantilevered stairs, the dramatic double-height socializing space (with a matchingly large-scaled artwork), a cavalier attitude to railings, and a broad wall of glazing onto a private (and in both cases, Rudolph-designed) court.

As noted above, the house was originally designed and built for Alexander Hirsch—and then subsequently purchased by Halston. Halston wanted some changes, and brought Rudolph back to make them. This is refreshingly different from the practice of most buyers of a previously-owned home (who usually bring in a different architect) - but Halston, a designer of great sophistication, made the right decision to return to the house’s original architect: Rudolph. We note - with great joy - that Mr. Ford (a man of surpassing style) wants to return the house to the elegant state which Halston (and Rudolph!) created.

And now a selection of images from the archives of the Paul Rudolph Heritage Foundation of this superb example of Rudolph’s work:

First Floor Plan

Mezzanine Floor Plan

Second Floor Plan

Perspective Section Rendering

Same section from the construction drawing set

Furniture details - made of acrylic with space to allow room for floor-length chainmail curtains.

The above images are by Eduardo Alfonso, who photographed the complete construction drawing set at the Library of Congress for the Paul Rudolph Heritage Foundation.

Paul Rudolph and Circular Delight

Image: cargocollective.com

Image: cargocollective.com

FAMILIAR FORMS

When one thinks of an architect, naturally one visualizes their most famous buildings - but, as much a part of that imaging process are the forms & shapes which you primarily associate with their work.

Thus, entrained with any thought of Wright, are the forms of his thrusting/cantilevered horizontal planes, counterpointed by solid masonry masses, his rhythmic verticals, and rigorous-but-playful use of circles. For Mies, it might be his floating, shifting planes (as in the Barcelona Pavilion), his cruciform column (from the same project), and his glazed grids. Corb is associated with a big vocabulary of forms—and strongly with his more sculptural shapes (like at Notre Dame du Haut) or, conversely, his platonically geometric “purism” (as in his Villa Stein or Villa Savoye).

A photo and plan-detail drawing of Mies van der Rohe’s “cruciform column”, as used in his 1929 Barcelona Pavilion. Image:  www.eng-tips.com

A photo and plan-detail drawing of Mies van der Rohe’s “cruciform column”, as used in his 1929 Barcelona Pavilion. Image: www.eng-tips.com

CURVILINEAR CONCEPTIONS

When it comes to forms, there’s something inherently pleasurable in curves and circles—one wonders if we, unconsciously, relate it to the pleasures and vitality of human bodies - or life itself. And it’s useful to recall that the education of all artists (and architects) - at least ‘till recently - included figure drawing.

With Rudolph, one doesn’t often think of circles, but he was hardly allergic to using curves in his work. They show up, sometimes most effusively, several times in his oeuvre. An example would be one of his most famous designs: the Healy Guest House:

Paul Rudolph’s perspective rendering of the Healy Guest House (also known at the “Cocoon House”), with its suspended, catenary curve roof. It was built in Siesta Key, Florida. Image: Paul Rudolph Heritage Foundation

Paul Rudolph’s perspective rendering of the Healy Guest House (also known at the “Cocoon House”), with its suspended, catenary curve roof. It was built in Siesta Key, Florida. Image: Paul Rudolph Heritage Foundation

Or in this baroquely sensuous set of stairs:

A staircase in Paul Rudolph’s Government Service Center in Boston. Photo: NCSU Libraries

A staircase in Paul Rudolph’s Government Service Center in Boston. Photo: NCSU Libraries

Or his intriguing proposal for the Inter-American Center:

Rudolph’s design for the bazaar-market building, part of the Inter-American Center (also known as the Interama) project, which was envisioned for the Miami area of Florida. Image: Library of Congress

Rudolph’s design for the bazaar-market building, part of the Inter-American Center (also known as the Interama) project, which was envisioned for the Miami area of Florida. Image: Library of Congress

There are other projects of his where flowing curves show up, but we’ll end with Rudolph’s own NYC apartment: its modest-size living room was enhanced by the floating curves of hanging bookshelves which surrounded the space:

Sinuously curved suspended shelving provided space for book storage and display, in Rudolph’s own NYC apartment. Photo: Tom Yee for House and Garden

Sinuously curved suspended shelving provided space for book storage and display, in Rudolph’s own NYC apartment. Photo: Tom Yee for House and Garden

CIRCLING BACK TO WRIGHT

But what about circles in Rudolph’s work?

For that, we need to return to Wright. The two great influences which are often cited for Rudolph are Wright and Le Corbusier. Wright - for his richly layered, deep-perspective spaces; and Corbusier - for the bold, sculptural plasticity of (especially) his later works. With Wright, we know the connection is not spurious, for we have a photograph of the youthful Rudolph visiting a Wright-designed home:

Rudolph (at left) and family members, visiting Wright’s Rosenbaum House in Alabama.  Photo: Paul Rudolph Heritage Foundation

Rudolph (at left) and family members, visiting Wright’s Rosenbaum House in Alabama.

Photo: Paul Rudolph Heritage Foundation

Now here’s where it gets really interesting. This is the overall plan for Rudolph’s “Floating Islands” project of 1952-1953:

Rudolph’s drawing for the Floating Islands project, for Leesburg, Florida. Image: Library of Congress

Rudolph’s drawing for the Floating Islands project, for Leesburg, Florida. Image: Library of Congress

This is Interiors magazine’s description of the project:

"Architect Paul Rudolph intends to enliven one 180-mile stretch in the interior - between two of Florida’s most popular sights, Silver Springs and the Bok Tower - with an amusement center and tourist attraction where the main feature is Florida flora growing from earth materials supported by masses of floating roots commonly called ‘floating islands.’ The site has a 1000-foot frontage on two U.S. highways and easy access to a fresh water lake where fishing is excellent. Aimed primarily for sight-seers who want to stop for a couple of hours for food and rest to learn something fast about Florida flora, the center would provide a restaurant near the road for passing motorists as wells as those who stop to see the gardens. For entertainment and recreation there will be a variety of exotic floral displays, grandstand shows of swimming and diving, and boating and water skiing on the lagoon which leads to the large lake and then a string of lakes and canals for boat excursions."

From: "Baroque Formality in a Florida Tourist Attraction" Interiors magazine, January, 1954

When contemplating this composition, what immediately to mind are Wright’s designs that utilize circles, especially decorative designs, like this:

Frieze over the fireplace in the living room of the Wright-designed Hollyhock House, in Los Angeles, California. Image: Architectural Digest

Frieze over the fireplace in the living room of the Wright-designed Hollyhock House, in Los Angeles, California. Image: Architectural Digest

Or this Wright design of a rug at the David and Gladys Wright house (incidentally, this house is one of our favorites) -

Image: Los Angeles Modern Auctions

Image: Los Angeles Modern Auctions

And here is Wright himself, contemplating one of his most famous graphics, “March Balloons”:

Frank Lloyd Wright (photographed circa the 1950’s) looking at a design he’d submitted for Liberty Magazine in the 1920’s. Image:  www.franklloydwright.org

Frank Lloyd Wright (photographed circa the 1950’s) looking at a design he’d submitted for Liberty Magazine in the 1920’s. Image: www.franklloydwright.org

Now, looking at these Wright designs, and looking at Rudolph’s plan for the “Floating Islands” project, do you see some formal resonance? Maybe a lot? We do. Hmmmmm!

But -

Isn’t history fascinatingly - for we learn that Wright had, earlier, worked on this project! Here’s what Christopher Domin and Joseph King tell us, in their wonderful book on Rudolph’s early work:

“Frank Lloyd Wright designed a sprawling scheme for this project in early 1952, which contained a central pavilion with a distinctive vaulted plywood tower, a series of cottages, and two pier-like motels with access from each room. After this project came in substantially over budget, Rudolph was brought in to reconceptualize the program and master plan for this combination highway rest stop, and tourist attraction near Leesburg in central Florida.”

Practical, budgetary, and programmatic challenges aside, one wonders what Rudolph thought (and felt!), knowing that he was supplanting the great Master himself. These fine historians go on to venture that Rudolph, in his design, might have been referencing Wright’s work (and mention several formally pertinent projects of Wright’s.) Or perhaps Wright’s original plan for this development was so strong, that Rudolph felt it provided a good and relevant parti for his own design? These are questions for which it is interesting to speculate - though they too have a circular quality.

PLATONIC PLEASURE

We were prompted to these rotund reflections by coming across this project, by the ever-fascinating MZ Architects:

Image: MZ Architects

Image: MZ Architects

It is their “Ring House”, a residential design for Riyadh. MZ describes it as:

“The proposed building consists of a cylindrical volume embracing a rectangular one. The cylinder acts as a protective closed wall with a single narrow opening serving as the entrance, while the inside rectangle accommodates fluidly all the house functions necessary for the everyday life of the artist: a bedroom, a bathroom, a living room, a kitchen and an atelier. The interior space interacts smoothly with the serene outdoor atrium, a large terrace garden with one symbolic tree and a circular water feature. By means of this composition, the ring-shaped structure figuratively resembles a cocoon ensuring a sense of intimacy and calmness for the house, that closes itself completely from the surroundings.”

The renderings make it look like the house, the courtyards, and the perimeter wall are made of concrete—and, if that’s the intention, this is certainly one of the most serenely elegant uses of concrete we’ve ever come across. MZ has other renderings for this superbly composed project—and we suggest you visit their website to see them (as well as explore the rest of their interesting oeuvre).

And that about rounds-out things for today…

Paul Rudolph and Fashion

Photo:  amazon.com

Photo: amazon.com

DESIGN VS. FASHION

NYC Fashion Week of 2019 has been upon us - that’s the time when citizens can see “swans” wandering our streets: models of such other-worldly perfection (?) that one sometimes wonders if they’re aliens! The season has made us contemplate the relationship between design and fashion - and, for that, our thoughts turn to the High Temple of design: MoMA.

Arthur Drexler (1925-1987) was, for over a third-of-a century, the Director of the Museum of Modern Art’s Department of Architecture and Design. It was (and remains) a powerful position, virtually “the pope” in the world of design. That’s because whatever the Museum chooses to recognize, collect, exhibit, and/or publish becomes very widely known, focused-upon, and studied - it is the design equivalent an “imprimatur” from the church. Drexler exercised this power with penetrating intelligence, an excellent eye, and a sharp awareness of the context of history - and his successors, particularly Barry Bergdoll and Martino Stierli, have continued to work at that high standard.

MoMA divided their Design Collection into two parts:

  • objects which belonged to the “Permanent Collection”—which met the highest standards of timeless excellence in design

  • objects which were assigned to the “Study Collection”—things which might not merit being in MoMA’s aristocracy of design objects, but which were interesting for formal or historic reasons, and therefor found a home at the museum

We mention all this because, during a 1970’s “backstage” visit to MoMA, down in the basement offices of the Department of Architecture and Design, Foundation member Seth Weine had a chance to ask Drexler:  Why didn’t we see examples of jewelry in the museum’s collection? After all, the making of jewelry is important to humans: it goes back to nearly the beginnings of mankind - and there were certainly many Modern designers working in jewelry. Drexler answered astutely, pointing out that that most jewelry falls into the category of “fashion” - which is inherently about change: what’s fashionable today will be out-of-fashion tomorrow. By contrast, MoMA’s collection aspired to permanent [timeless] excellence. So there was an inherent incongruity between most jewelry objects and MoMA’s high design criteria. Even so, Drexler walked Seth over to some display cases and pointed-out the few examples of jewelry therein: some simple geometric “mood rings” of the 1960’s:

A plastic “mood ring”, designed by Stephen Broday and Dan Stoenescu.. Photo: The Museum of Modern Art

A plastic “mood ring”, designed by Stephen Broday and Dan Stoenescu.. Photo: The Museum of Modern Art

and a metallic bracelet with a rather mechanical look:

A brass bracelet by an unknown designer, circa 1940. Photo: The Museum of Modern Art

A brass bracelet by an unknown designer, circa 1940. Photo: The Museum of Modern Art

So they did have some jewelry—but as part of the Study Collection.

ONE THAT MADE IT (INTO THE MoMA PANTHEON)

Many architects are obsessed with wristwatches—and some architects have even designed them—like  Sottsass, Isozaki, Hollein, and Graves. Michael Graves was particularly active in this, with a great range of designs.

Inventive—yes. But frankly, many of those designs strike us as being, at most, of historic interest: their forms and colors reflecting the architectural modes of the day—precisely what Drexler identified as passing fashion.

Are there, in watch designs, any exceptions to such fashion ephemerality? Yes, several - and one of them is most famous of all: the “Museum Watch” designed by Nathan George Horwitt. This wristwatch became an iconic object of Modernism, and was so named because it was elected to be part of the Museum of Modern Art’s permanent collection (where the original version was on display). It also became part of the collection of the Brooklyn Museum:

The “Museum Watch”. Photo: Brooklyn Museum

The “Museum Watch”. Photo: Brooklyn Museum

WATCHING RUDOLPH

What watch did Mies wear? What about Gropius? Bunshaft? Sullivan?—well, he was from an era well before wristwatches became popular for men (that changed only with World War One)—but Wright spanned into the wristwatch-wearing era: So did he wear one?

When we were assembling materials for our recent Rudolph centennial exhibit, we were wondering—given many architects’ interest in watches - if Paul Rudolph had a special wristwatch that we could include in the show. It’s hard tell, just from photographs, what watch (if any) Rudolph ever wore. Indeed, it’s actually rather hard to clearly see any person’s watch in photographs, and even more difficult to determine the make and model. (Although there are now websites which attempt such “watch spotting”.)

While we didn’t find a Rudolph watch for the exhibit, we’ve recently heard about this subject from his close friend, Emily Sherman. Emily tells us that she gave Rudolph a wristwatch: the famous “Museum Watch”!

P.S. Would Rudolph have also liked this watch?

It certainly features that rust-orange color (“paprika”) that Paul Rudolph used in many of his interiors. Moreover: it also has a pronouncedly octagonal shape - in fact, it has 5 octagons.

That’s a form which Rudolph became quite friendly with in the final phase of his career, when he was working in Asia—particularly in his Lippo [Bond] Centre towers in Hong Kong and in his Concourse in Singapore.

Rudolph's 'Personal Laboratory' at 23 Beekman place to be up for sale

23 Beekman Place at the time Rudolph lived there. Photo: Ed Chappell

23 Beekman Place at the time Rudolph lived there. Photo: Ed Chappell

The Paul Rudolph Heritage Foundation has learned that Paul Rudolph’s legendary townhouse at 23 Beekman Place will be for sale in the next weeks. The listing will include the entire 11,000 s.f. (1,022 m2) building - the iconic 4,100 s.f. (381 m2) quadriplex penthouse and Rudolph-designed lower rental units - for $18.5 million. The exclusive brokers, Jonathan Hettinger and Lena Datwani of Sotheby’s International Realty, reached out to the foundation to discuss the property’s architectural significance in preparation for the sale. They are hoping to identify a buyer who will appreciate Rudolph’s legacy.

Rudolph’s ‘Personal Laboratory’

Rudolph designed 23 Beekman place as a spatially rich and very personal vision of the possibilities of architecture. It was both intimate and Piranesi-like, soaring and layered: an orchestration of interlocking spaces. It was Rudolph’s design laboratory, where he would constantly change, try out, and experiment with new variations - a composition of rich textures and reflective materials that caught the light in magical ways. No less than 17 levels could be counted which, pinwheel-like, floated harmoniously and lead from one luminous experience to the next.

Rudolph’s rendering of 23 Beekman Place in section. Image: Library of Congress

Rudolph’s rendering of 23 Beekman Place in section. Image: Library of Congress

23 Beekman Place was constantly moving: light plays, water falls, and canals on the terrace were built. There was a Plexiglas Jacuzzi on the top level through which you could see down over 30 feet, to dazzling spaces below—a 20th century version of Sir John Soane’s House Museum in London.

Drawings and a model of the property were included in the recent Paul Rudolph centennial exhibition titled ‘Paul Rudolph: The Personal Laboratory’ which was on display in the Modulightor building and featured in an article in the New York Times.

Featured in Film and Magazines

The home’s iconic design led it to it being center stage for parties hosted by Rudolph at which one could rub elbows with the likes of Ray Eames, Mikhail Baryshnikov, Jessica Lange, Philip Johnson and Frank Gehry.

Image: Paul Rudolph Heritage Foundation Archives

Image: Paul Rudolph Heritage Foundation Archives

The home was also featured in magazine fashion shoots, movies and television shows, including a memorable fire drill scene from the 2001 movie The Royal Tenenbaums.

Renovations

After Rudolph passed away in 1997, the apartment was sold and the new owners made renovations. These included removing the infamous lucite bathub that hung above the kitchen and other code related modifications.

Landmark Designation

In 2010, the building was designated a New York City landmark by the Landmark Preservation Commission. Matt Postal, an architectural historian and member of the Commission, made the initial presentation to the board:

Although the multi-level interiors fashioned by Rudolph have been modified by subsequent owners, the exterior is virtually unchanged. 23 Beekman Place is a significant and highly personal example of this important modern architect’s late work. Visible from Beekman Place and various points east, it is one of only four buildings designed by Rudolph in New York City, and arguably, his most significant.

Several Rudolph properties have been on the market recently, just as the famed architect would have turned 100 years. These include the Treistman Residence in Englewood, New Jersey and the Milam Residence in Jacksonville, Florida. The Halston (Hirsch) Residence was sold on January 15th for $18 million, and the Walker Guest House in Sanibel, Florida was put on the market last month.

Please spread the word about the upcoming sale and if you want to know more information, please reach out to us at office@paulrudolphheritagefoundation.org

Valentines for Concrete Lovers

Image: www.coffeewithanarchitect.com

Image: www.coffeewithanarchitect.com

HARD HEARTED?

Oh, we know that fans of Paul Rudolph’s work (and the work of other, so-called, “Brutalists”) are often accused of having an excessive fondness for concrete: perhaps it could be called ‘Concrete-o-Phila’

Well, Valentine’s Day is coming up - tomorrow! At the Paul Rudolph Heritage Foundation, our thoughts turn to romance, candy, hearts - and concrete of course…

It turns out that we’re not the only ones. There’s an army of maker-designers out there, rendering the most amazing shapes in concrete - including hearts!

Check-out these creative concrete conjurers:

Image: Homemade-modern.com

Image: Homemade-modern.com

  • Here’s a lovely ring, made of concrete, which had been offered by Concretely Shop:

Image: Concretely Shop

Image: Concretely Shop

  • On Youtube, Ali Coultas shows how to make lightheartedly colorful concrete hearts:

Image: Ali Coultas

Image: Ali Coultas

  • For the more literal, Anna Szabo has sculpted a series of organ jewelry, including an anatomically-correct (as filtered through cubism) heart:

Image: Anna Szabo

Image: Anna Szabo

  • And, while the choices could go on-and-on, we’ll end with this example—which shows that you can have an affinity for concrete—and a heart of gold:

Image: The Pink Hill Jewelry

Image: The Pink Hill Jewelry

Have a happy Valentine’s Day from the Paul Rudolph Heritage Foundation and remember when its made of concrete, you’re less likely to wind up with a broken heart!

Paul Rudolph: Designs for Feed and Speed

Front view of a model of a drive-in: the Cantor “HIWAY” restaurant, designed by Mies Van der Rohe. Image: The Museum of Modern Art

Front view of a model of a drive-in: the Cantor “HIWAY” restaurant, designed by Mies Van der Rohe. Image: The Museum of Modern Art

Floor plan and elevation of a drive-in: the Cantor “HIWAY” restaurant, designed by Mies Van der Rohe, pencil on tracing paper, circa 1945-1950. Image: The Museum of Modern Art

Floor plan and elevation of a drive-in: the Cantor “HIWAY” restaurant, designed by Mies Van der Rohe, pencil on tracing paper, circa 1945-1950. Image: The Museum of Modern Art

HIGH DESIGN FOR THE EVERYDAY

Famous architects—those operating at the very highest level of architecture-as-art - have designed for some surprising prosaic uses. Above is a model, plan, and elevation for Mies’ design for a highway drive-in. And did you know that he also - and we’re not kidding - did an ice-cream stand in Berlin? (Yes, it got built.)

Frank Lloyd Wright designed a gas station - which also was built:

Wright’s gas station, located in Cloquet, Minnesota. Image: McGhiever

Wright’s gas station, located in Cloquet, Minnesota. Image: McGhiever

Wright also designed a dog-house. And here’s a fascinating one designed by Philip Johnson, which is against a stone retaining wall near Johnson’s Glass House:

A Philip Johnson designed dog house—on the Glass House estate. Image: www.urbandognyc.com

A Philip Johnson designed dog house—on the Glass House estate. Image: www.urbandognyc.com

By-the way, Rudolph said he’d be willing to design a dog house - if - he was allowed to design a very good and unique one. (We’re sure it would have been fascinating - but, as far as we know, he was never commissioned to do so.)

And, of course, famous architects have designed objects for everyday use - particularly furniture. We all know Mies’, Breuer’s, and Le Corbusier’s chairs, but what about Aalto’s tea cart - a very elegant design:

Alvar Aalto’s Tea Trolley 901, a design from 1936—and still manufactured and available. Image:  www.Aalto.com

Alvar Aalto’s Tea Trolley 901, a design from 1936—and still manufactured and available. Image: www.Aalto.com

AND RUDOLPH DOES AS WELL

So it is no wonder that Paul Rudolph, when asked to design a donut stand, engaged in the project. Here is his perspective rendering, from 1956:

Paul Rudolph’s perspective rendering of a donut stand for Tampa, Florida. Image: Library of Congress

Paul Rudolph’s perspective rendering of a donut stand for Tampa, Florida. Image: Library of Congress

If one divided the arc of Rudolph’s career into geographically-based chapters (around the locations of his primary offices), one would say that he had three phases:

  • Florida (approx. just after WWII -to- 1958)

  • New Haven (approx. 1958-1965)

  • New York (approx.. 1965-his passing in 1997)

This project happened during the time his primary office was in Florida, and the preponderance of his clients in that state. It was there, centered in the Sarasota area (though extending outward to the rest of the state and beyond) that Rudolph started his career. Initially he was doing small houses, guest houses, beach houses… but his practice eventually grew to embrace all kinds of building types, from primary residences to schools, offices, and larger developments.

Rudolph’s designs for Florida are among his most creative and fascinating bodies of work. For a long time, one could only learn about them via delving into vintage professional journals—but an exceptionally fine book, covering that period, came out in 2002:

Image: Amazon.com

Image: Amazon.com

Paul Rudolph: The Florida Houses

by Christopher Domin and Joseph King, with photographs by Ezra Stoller. Published by Princeton Architectural Press

The book’s title undersells the book it bit, for (we’re happy to say) that the volume covers more than houses. For example: this donut stand. About it, they write:

"Rudolph, along with Frank Lloyd Wright and Mies van der Rohe, believed that even the most banal aspects of the American popular landscape such as fast-food restaurants and gas stations were worthy of an architect’s services. The Donut Stand, designed for a group of investors in Tampa, was commissioned as a prototype building to act as the marketing symbol for this roadside business. Rudolph hung a thin planar structure from four vertical steel supports, creating a veritable floating roof with a minimal, glass-enclosed interior space below. This project was designed in the Cambridge office at the same time as the Grand Rapids Homestyle Residence, with a similarly conceptualized open plan and restrained use of materials. A hastily rendered design drawing was presented to some of the investors, but was soon shelved after a payment dispute. By this time Rudolph opened his Cambridge, Massachusetts office to develop drawings for the Jewett Arts Center in Wellesley and later the Blue Cross Blue Shield Building in Boston, but many Florida projects from this period were also coordinated from this satellite studio."

Like dating a project - always a challenge in architectural history - the location where this project was done poses similar questions. As the authors point out above, when it comes to where this was designed, the story is a bit more complicated than the Florida-New Haven-New York triad.

At various times in his career, Rudolph had temporary satellite offices. (We tried to lay this out when we put together a timeline for the Paul Rudolph Heritage Foundation’s recent exhibit, Paul Rudolph: The Personal Laboratory - and found that it was challenging to figure-out the many locations where Rudolph and his team(s) worked.)

Even so, it is also hard to say that something was designed in one particular spot: architects are thinking/sketching/pondering design problems wherever they go. The documentary about Rudolph, “Spaces: The Architecture of Paul Rudolph” shows him sketching on the train. So even if the presentation materials for this donut stand were done in Cambridge, you can well guess that the place(s) where Rudolph was thinking about it was not geographically limited.

This was not Paul Rudolph’s first foray into roadside food facilities! The Library of Congress’ collection of Rudolph drawings also has a Tastee Freez stand, which he designed a few years before:

Paul Rudolph’s perspective rendering of a Tastee Freez stand, from 1954. Judging from the palm trees (in the background of the drawing), this too was for Florida. Image: Library of Congress

Paul Rudolph’s perspective rendering of a Tastee Freez stand, from 1954. Judging from the palm trees (in the background of the drawing), this too was for Florida. Image: Library of Congress

It’s interesting to contemplate what unites the two designs - and how they fit into Rudolph’s work and thinking. A few primary points might be mentioned:

  • The articulation of structure - as distinct from the planes of the roof/wall/enclosure/signage.

  • The play of opaque and transparent - which is strongly expressed in the graphic (solid black) contrast of the dark underside of the roof-planes.

  • The attention-getting nature of the design - even when done in a strictly High-Modern style, both buildings are well-planned to be noticeable from speedy passing traffic.

  • The inclusion of shade - especially important in a semi-tropical environment like Florida.

  • Never forgetting the human - both renderings include figures and seating which give a clear sense of scale (as well as conveying that these are not just abstract compositions, but rather for real use.)

  • Bauhaus-ian composition - which is hardly to be wondered-at, as Walter Gropius—founding director of the Bauhaus - was Paul Rudolph’s teacher when in Rudolph was in graduate school at Harvard.

High (end) or low; fast food or elegant settings; at intimate or gigantic scale - Rudolph, like any true design-master, could engage interestingly with any project.

The Seagram Building - by Rudolph?

The Seagram Building in New York City, under construction, designed by Mies van der Rohe. Photo: ReseachGate, Hunt, 1958

The Seagram Building in New York City, under construction, designed by Mies van der Rohe. Photo: ReseachGate, Hunt, 1958

Mies van der Rohe’s Seagram Building is one of the loftiest of the high icons of Modernism. For decades, it was almost a sacred object. Indeed, several of his buildings - the Barcelona Pavilion and the Farnsworth House (as well as the Seagram) - were maintained in a bubble of architectural adoration.

Is reverence for Mies going too far? Actually, it’s architect Craig Ellwood at Mies van der Rohe’s National Gallery museum building in Berlin (caught while photographing a sculpture.) Photo: Architectural Forum, November 1968

Is reverence for Mies going too far? Actually, it’s architect Craig Ellwood at Mies van der Rohe’s National Gallery museum building in Berlin (caught while photographing a sculpture.) Photo: Architectural Forum, November 1968

SEEMS INEVITABLE

Mies is considered to be one of the triad of architects (with Wright and Corb) who were the makers of Modern architecture - a holy trinity! Given Mies’ fame - and the quietly assured, elegantly tailored, serenely-strong presence of Seagram (much like Mies himself) - it seems completely inevitable that he would be its architect. Like an inescapable manifestation of the Zeitgeist, it is hard to conceive that there might have been an alternative to Mies being Seagram’s architect.

Mies is watching! Photo: The Charnel House –  www.charnelhouse.org

Mies is watching! Photo: The Charnel House – www.charnelhouse.org

BUT WAS IT?

In retrospect, seeing the full arc of Mies’ career and reputation, it does seem inevitable. Whom else could deliver such a project? A bronze immensity, planned, detailed and constructed with the care of a jeweler.

But - as usual - the historical truth is more complex and messy (and more interesting).

GETTING ON THE LIST(S)

Several times,  Phyllis Lambert has addressed the history of the Seagram Building and her key role in its formation. But the story is conveyed most articulately and fully in her book, Building Seagram—a richly-told & illustrated, first-person account of the making of the this icon, published by Yale University Press.

Phyllis Lambert’s fascinating book on the creation and construction of the Seagram Building. Image: Yale University Press

Phyllis Lambert’s fascinating book on the creation and construction of the Seagram Building. Image: Yale University Press

Part of the story is her search for who would be the right architect for the building. In one of the book’s most fascinating passages, she recounts the lists that were made of prospective architects:

“In the early days of my search, I met Eero Saarinen at Philip Johnson’s Glass House in Connecticut. In inveterate list-maker, he was most helpful in proposing what we draw up a list of architects according to three categories: those who could but shouldn’t, those who should but couldn’t, and those who could and should. Those who could but shouldn’t were on Bankers Trust Company list of February 1952, including the unimaginative Harrison & Abramovitz and the work of Skidmore , Owings & Merrill, which Johnson and Saarinen considered to be an uninspired reprise of the Bauhaus. Those who should but couldn’t were the younger architects, none of whom had worked on large buildings: Marcel Breuer, who had taught at the Bauhaus and then immigrated to the United States to teach with Gropius at Harvard, and, as already noted, had completed Sarah Lawrence College Art Center in Bronxville; Paul Rudolph, who had received the AIA Award of Merit in 1950 for his Healy Beach Cottage in Sarasota, Florida; Minoru Yamasaki, whose first major public building , the thin-shell vaulted-roof passenger terminal at Lambert-Saint Louis International Airport, was completed in 1956; and I. M. Pei, who had worked with Breuer and Gropius at Harvard and became developer William Zeckendorf’s captive architect. Pei’s intricate, plaid-patterned curtain wall for Denver’s first skyscraper at Mile High Center was then under construction.

The list of those who could and should was short: Le Corbusier and Mies were the only real contenders. Wright was there-but-not-there: he belonged to another world. By reputation, founder and architect of the Bauhaus Walter Gropius should have been on this list, but in design, he always relied on others, and his recent Harvard Graduate Center was less than convincing. Unnamed at that meeting were Saarinen and Johnson themselves, who essentially belonged to the “could but shouldn’t” category.”

WHAT IF’S

So Rudolph was on the list and considered, if briefly. Even that’s something—a real acknowledgment of his up-and-coming talent.

Moreover, Paul Rudolph did have towering aspirations. In Timothy Rohan’s magisterial study of Rudolph (also published by Yale University Press) he writes: 

“Rudolph had great expectations when he resigned from Yale and moved to New York in 1965. He told friends and students that he was at last going to become a ‘skyscraper architect,’ a life-long dream.”

That relocation, from New Haven to New York City, took place in the middle of the 1960’s—about a decade after Mies started work on Seagram. But, back about the time that Mies commenced his project, Rudolph also entered into his own skyscraper project: the Blue Cross / Blue Shield Building in Boston.

Paul Rudolph’s first large office building, a 12 storey tower he designed for Blue Cross/Blue Shield from 1957-1960. It is located at 133 Federal Street in Boston. Photo: Campaignoutsider.com

Paul Rudolph’s first large office building, a 12 storey tower he designed for Blue Cross/Blue Shield from 1957-1960. It is located at 133 Federal Street in Boston. Photo: Campaignoutsider.com

It takes a very different approach to skyscraper design, particularly with regard to the perimeter wall: Rudolph’s design is highly articulated, what Timothy Rohan calls a “challenge” to the curtain wall (of the type with which Mies is associated)—indeed, “muscular” would be an appropriate characterization. Moreover, Rudolph integrated mechanical systems into the wall system in an innovative way.

A closer view of the Blue Cross/Blue Shield’s highly articulated façade and corner, seen nearer to street-level. Photo: Courtesy of the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth Library

A closer view of the Blue Cross/Blue Shield’s highly articulated façade and corner, seen nearer to street-level. Photo: Courtesy of the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth Library

And, Rudolph did end up fulfilling his post-Yale desire to become a “skyscraper architect”—at least in part. He ended up doing significantly large office buildings and apartment towers: in Fort Worth, Hong Kong, Japan, Singapore, and Jakarta. Each project showed him able to work with a variety of skyscraper wall-types, materials, and formal vocabularies. Rudolph, while maintaining the integrity of his architectural visions, also could be versatile.

And yet -

He was on that Seagram list, and we are left with some tantalizing “What if’s…

What if he had gotten the commission for Seagram—an what would he have done with it?

Wright & Johnson & Rudolph

Frank Lloyd Wright (left) with Philip Johnson

Frank Lloyd Wright (left) with Philip Johnson

FRANK AND PHILIP

Wright and Johnson: given their contrasting personalizes, background, design orientations, and different generations—they were born nearly 40 years apart—they were not a likely pair.

Yet they had decades of interaction, and two main factors contributed to that ongoing phenomenon:

  • In some ways, architecture is a small world. If you’re in the field, chances are that you know (or know of) scores and even hundreds of colleagues though journal articles, exhibitions, lectures, teaching, organizations, juries, conferences - and now, on-line. And if you’re famous (or ambitious and working on it), it’s likely that you’ve personally met and engaged with each other at the kinds of venues mentioned above. That, in turn, begets even more such occasions and encounters: further exhibits, more meetings, additional panels & symposia, recommendations for fellowships, new conferences… as well as mutual acknowledgment on social media.

  • Charming, social, strategic, ambitious, energetic, mentally sharp - that set of characterizations can accurately be applied to both Wright and Johnson. Creatively, Wright was a force-of-nature - and he can be justly included as one of Modern architecture’s foundational trio (the other two, generally selected for that pantheon, are Mies and Corbusier) And Johnson - whatever you think of his design oeuvre (and we do like some parts of it) - can be well described as an architectural entrepreneur. Not just in the matter of obtaining clients, but rather in the broadest sense of his working to influence & explore culture through exhibits, writing, curation, making connections, public pronouncements, and pouring his personal resources into many projects (a.k.a.: various kinds of patronage.)

Wright did those things too, but with Johnson it was a bit different. It seems funny to say it, but in a way Johnson was the less selfish of the two. Wright was relentlessly focused on himself and his self-designed community/universe. But Johnson - while no slouch when it came to self-promotion, and in actively seeing out clients for his growing practice - was also sending energy outwards. So the exhibits, books, organizations, and other projects to which Johnson contributed or organized were not always just about him—and that’s a contrast with Wright.

There were a variety of occasions and reasons for them to interact - as recounted in a full-length study of the pairing by Hugh Howard.

Hugh Howard’s recent book on Wright and Johnson, “Architecture’s Odd Couple” Photo: Bloomsbury Press

Hugh Howard’s recent book on Wright and Johnson, “Architecture’s Odd Couple” Photo: Bloomsbury Press

Some of Johnson’s projects brought them together, most notably MoMA’s “Modern Architecture: International Exposition” of 1932, for which Philip Johnson and Henry-Russell Hitchcock were the curators (which also resulted in an equally famous and influential book & phrase: “The International Style”). Wright, possibly annoyed at not being the show’s center of attention, was grouchy about the whole thing and seems to have played “hard-to-get” - but he did eventually decide to take part in this historically significant exhibition.

Wright’s work, as shown in MoMA’s architecture exhibition. Photo: The Museum of Modern Art, New York

Wright’s work, as shown in MoMA’s architecture exhibition. Photo: The Museum of Modern Art, New York

PAUL AND PHILIP

A snapshot of Philip Johnson (with folder in hands), Paul Rudolph (in center, on stool), and Vincent Scully (to the right of Rudolph), at a Yale architecture school jury in 1960. Photo: Stanley Tigerman

A snapshot of Philip Johnson (with folder in hands), Paul Rudolph (in center, on stool), and Vincent Scully (to the right of Rudolph), at a Yale architecture school jury in 1960. Photo: Stanley Tigerman

Paul Rudolph and Johnson were old friends, rivals, and sociable sparring partners. For example: Rudolph invited Johnson to teach at Yale; they’d dine together at a pub about midway between their Manhattan homes; they’d poke fun at each other’s work; and Rudolph was a welcome guest at Johnson’s famous Glass House estate in New Canaan.

Sunset at Philip Johnson’s Glass House. Photo: Arthurious.com

Sunset at Philip Johnson’s Glass House. Photo: Arthurious.com

A WEEKEND IN THE COUNTRY

A special 1996 issue of ANY [Architecture New York] magazine was devoted to celebrating Philip Johnson’s 90th birthday. 33 essays, from luminaries ranging from Stanley Tigerman -to- Zaha Hadid -to- Hans Hollein -to- Kevin Roche (and 29 more!) offered their memories, thoughts, anecdotes, and tributes to Johnson - including one from Paul Rudolph, titled “A Sunday Afternoon.” As you’ll see, it records a unique occasion when the three of them - Wright, Johnson, and Rudolph - were together:

Now that’s what we’d call a perfect day.

Paul Rudolph's design for MoMA’s ‘FAMILY OF MAN’ Exhibition

Paul Rudolph’s plan-perspective drawing for the layout for the Museum of Modern Art’s   Family of Man   photography exhibition, which opened in 1955. Image: Library of Congress

Paul Rudolph’s plan-perspective drawing for the layout for the Museum of Modern Art’s Family of Man photography exhibition, which opened in 1955. Image: Library of Congress

A SPECTACULARLY SUCCESSFUL EXHIBIT

The Family of Man was a photography exhibition held at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City in 1955. Edward Steichen—himself a distinguished photographer, and the curator of the show (and whose widow eventually became a Rudolph client)—had the prodigious task of making the selection from submissions from all over the world. It ended up being a sweepingly large show, with over 500 photographs, from 69 countries, and by 222 photographers.

Edwin Steichen, the Director of the Museum of Modern Art’s Department of Photography, facing the task of selecting & organizing photographs for the exhibit. Photo: MoMA

Edwin Steichen, the Director of the Museum of Modern Art’s Department of Photography, facing the task of selecting & organizing photographs for the exhibit. Photo: MoMA

MoMA concisely describes the exhibit as follows:

This ambitious exhibition, which brought together hundreds of images by photographers working around the world, was a forthright declaration of global solidarity in the decade following World War II. Organized by noted photographer and director of MoMA’s Department of Photography Edward Steichen, the exhibition took the form of a photo essay celebrating the universal aspects of the human experience. Steichen had invited photographers to submit photographs for consideration, explaining that his aim was to capture “the gamut of life from birth to death”—a task for which, he argued, photography was uniquely suited. The exhibition toured the world for eight years, attracting more than 9 million visitors.

The show included photos that have become absolute “classics” in the history of photography, like this famous image of an American migrant worker and her children: Dorothea Lange’s photograph, “Migrant Mother”

Image: Library of Congress

Image: Library of Congress

By-the-way: MoMA’s point, about the exhibit touring the world, makes it more accurate to say that this was a set of exhibitions, for - after its initial showing at MoMA in 1955 (the one designed by Paul Rudolph) - copies or versions of the exhibit were shown all over the globe, in over 3 dozen nations (and sometimes in a several cities within a country). This included exhibits in some iron-curtain countries - which, itself, might be considered quite an achievement right in the heart of the Cold War.

The show has had further life as a book which, well over half-a-century since it came out, seems to have been continuously in-print—an amazing record. [And, not long ago, a special 60th Anniversary Edition was published.]

The meaningfulness of the show’s collection of photos---that particular selection, and the way they were organized—can not only be gauged by the attendance figures to the shows, but also by comments from readers of the book version. Here are two samples from readers (who commented on Amazon):

“I have read this book over and over again … and bought copies for my children and my aged grandfather. Since the MoMA republished it, all my grandchildren are getting a copy as birthday presents. The meaning of each photograph is easily understood by all cultures, and is a timeless portrayal of life from love, birth, living life and eventually, death.”

“In the maddening fast pace time we live in, where we are presented with false dichotomies and "news" that promotes division and futility of purpose this book - this magnificent book - draws the reader into a calmer, slower pace, awe inspiring appreciation for the beauty and wonder of our species. When I first opened its pages I was skeptical - prepared to be disappointed by another commercial knock off that pretends to be one thing and ends with a solicitation to buy into some self serving, blame evoking finger pointing view, on the one hand, or an unrealistic, romanticized characterization of a simple and simplistic view of the good old days. An hour into the book I was completely captured by the poets and artists portrayal of the human family.”

AN INTEREST IN EXHIBIT DESIGN

Rudolph created a number over exhibitions over the decades (including with the Museum of Modern Art, prior to the Family of Man show), and exhibit design seems to have been an ongoing interest of his. The Rudolph-designed duplex apartment, within the Modulightor Building, has a portion of Paul Rudolph’s library—and in it we found a copy of a book he owned on Franco Albini (1905-1977)—the multi-talented Italian architect.

Photo of the book in the Library of the Paul Rudolph Heritage Foundation

Photo of the book in the Library of the Paul Rudolph Heritage Foundation

Albini was a prolific designer of exhibits, as shown in these spreads from the book:

Photo of the book in the Library of the Paul Rudolph Heritage Foundation

Photo of the book in the Library of the Paul Rudolph Heritage Foundation

The book came out (and was acquired by Rudolph) decades after the Family of Man show—so we cannot say this publication influenced Rudolph. We only mention it as evidence of Rudolph’s ongoing interest in the topic of exhibit design.

A SUCCESSFUL EXHIBIT DESIGN

A plan of the  Family of Man  exhibit, with explanatory labels and notes. This version was in an article about the show that appeared in  Popular Photography  magazine.

A plan of the Family of Man exhibit, with explanatory labels and notes. This version was in an article about the show that appeared in Popular Photography magazine.

Rudolph used about all imaginable methods & arrangements to display/mount/show the hundreds of photographs in the show—and sometimes it seems like he wanted to try every possible variation. Yet the show seems to have had coherence, and the multiple display techniques worked well with the photographic materials.

These many techniques included:

  • Large-scale (wall-spanning) enlargements of a single photograph

  • Wall mounting in a pattern of De Stijl-ian grids

  • Suspension from rods (coming from the ceiling)

  • Mounting on rods (coming up from the floor)

  • Mounting over “island”-like, space-defining platforms

  • Suspending within a vignette, created by a cyclorama of fabric, below a glowing circular ceiling

  • Showing them against a transparent background window—so as to provide glimpses through the assemblage of photos, to the next space

  • Suspended in groupings of large panels—and…

  • And thickening the edges of those panels, to give them visual substance

  • Collected together in smaller, more intimate sizes

  • Isolating a single photo, so as to give it dramatic focus

  • Placing a horizontal line of photos along curved convex walls—indeed, having two such matching walls face each-other, so as to create a compressed spatial transition into the next gallery

  • Creating free-standing, curved, island-like display “objects”—with the photos placed at low viewing angles

  • Cantilevering photos—fin-like—off the wall (at 90 degrees to the wall’s main plane

  • Cantilevering photos—fin-like—off vertical poles

  • Placing a giant photo on the ceiling

  • Suspending large photos in visually-strong, contrastingly-dark wood framing elements

There are probably more, but the above list—and the below portfolio of installation images—will give you an idea of the inventiveness that Rudolph brought to this challenge.

A BOOK ABOUT THE EXHIBIT?

We’ve mentioned the well-known Family of Man book which came out of the show (and the new, anniversary edition)—but the exhibit design, per se, certainly deserves its own monograph. Did such a book ever come out?

No and yes. There’s never been, to our knowledge, a book focused on the design of the show. But we did discover that a deluxe edition of the Family of Man book was published: a version which includes an “A special portfolio of photographs by Ezra Stoller” showing the exhibit installation. That section starts off with this page:

Photo of the book in the Library of the Paul Rudolph Heritage Foundation

Photo of the book in the Library of the Paul Rudolph Heritage Foundation

Paul Rudolph’s participation in the exhibit had been fully acknowledged in MoMA’s own 1955 press release for the show—and it is also clearly indicated in the deluxe edition of the book:

Photo of the book in the Library of the Paul Rudolph Heritage Foundation

Photo of the book in the Library of the Paul Rudolph Heritage Foundation

Here’s an example of the installation shots, as shown from a section of the book:

Photo of the book in the Library of the Paul Rudolph Heritage Foundation

Photo of the book in the Library of the Paul Rudolph Heritage Foundation

Good news:  We have a copy of that deluxe edition in the library of the Paul Rudolph Heritage Foundation. But if you would like to have one of those deluxe editions for your own, it seems that copies do show up on the websites of on-line booksellers, like Abebooks and Amazon.