Paul Rudolph: Section-Master

Rudolph’s unbuilt Wayne State University Humanities Building. Image: Paul Rudolph Heritage Foundation Archives

Rudolph’s unbuilt Wayne State University Humanities Building. Image: Paul Rudolph Heritage Foundation Archives

SECTION DRAWINGS ARE GETTING ATTENTION

 We’ve recently seen an on-line article from the news site, Architizer, “Architectural Drawings: 10 Cultural Landmarks in Section.”  In it, marvelously done section drawings are shown, along with the photos and info on the buildings they depict.  Here’s a fine example: a fascinating design for the Louisiana State Museum and Sports Hall of Fame by Trahan Architects 

A celebration of section-drawings is always welcome - but we wonder: where is any acknowledgment of Rudolph? - truly, one of the masters of the form.

SECTION STUDY

A recent book, Manual of Section, by Paul Lewis, Marc Tsurumaki, and David J. Lewis, was published by Princeton Architectural Press.

Image: Paul Lewis, Marc Tsurumaki, and David J. Lewis

Image: Paul Lewis, Marc Tsurumaki, and David J. Lewis

The publisher’s page on the book shows that it has an extensive selection of building sections—all redrawn to a uniform standard (which facilitates comparison).  Though the book’s selection of buildings is generally skewed to rather recently constructed ones, happily they do include a Rudolph building: his Yale Art & Architecture Building:

Section of Paul Rudolph’s Art & Architecture Building (now Rudolph Hall). Image: Paul Lewis, Marc Tsurumaki, and David J. Lewis from  Manual of Section .

Section of Paul Rudolph’s Art & Architecture Building (now Rudolph Hall). Image: Paul Lewis, Marc Tsurumaki, and David J. Lewis from Manual of Section.

One of the best aspects of the book is its opening sections, which give a well-illustrated introduction to the history of the use of sections in architecture, and the development of this kind of drawing.

[And, as an additional treat, the authors—who are partners in an eponymously named architecture firm—are also offering a coloring book version of their book.]

The Coloring Book version. Image: Paul Lewis, Marc Tsurumaki, and David J. Lewis.

The Coloring Book version. Image: Paul Lewis, Marc Tsurumaki, and David J. Lewis.

RUDOLPH DRAWING

The Library of Congress has the largest collection of Rudolph’s drawings & papers, and they’ve put online good scans of several hundred of his drawings. These include numerous examples of his famous sections - and below are several examples:

The Cohen Residence. Image: Library of Congress

The Cohen Residence. Image: Library of Congress

A section through Rudolph’s architectural office in Manhattan. Image: Library of Congress

A section through Rudolph’s architectural office in Manhattan. Image: Library of Congress

Rudolph’s penthouse “Quadruplex” apartment, on Beekman Place, NYC. Image: Library of Congress

Rudolph’s penthouse “Quadruplex” apartment, on Beekman Place, NYC. Image: Library of Congress

Burroughs Wellcome Company headquarters, North Carolina. Image: Library of Congress

Burroughs Wellcome Company headquarters, North Carolina. Image: Library of Congress

The Concourse, Beach Road, Singapore. Image: Library of Congress

The Concourse, Beach Road, Singapore. Image: Library of Congress

Of course, Rudolph’s most famous drawing is probably his own section through his most famous building—Yale’s Art & Architecture Building (now rededicated as Rudolph Hall). It is always worth taking another look at that drawing—appreciating its subtleties, the way that Rudolph conveyed light entering the space, and the way he was able to convey so much information into a single drawing (without muddying the overall message):

Art and Architecture Building, now Rudolph Hall, Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut. Perspective section. Photograph of drawing by Paul Rudolph, circa 1964, printed later. Image: Library of Congress

Art and Architecture Building, now Rudolph Hall, Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut. Perspective section. Photograph of drawing by Paul Rudolph, circa 1964, printed later. Image: Library of Congress

THINKING IN SECTION

To cap this off, here are two drawings shown in the Paul Rudolph Heritage Foundation’s recent exhibit to celebrate the centennial of Rudolph’s birth:  Paul Rudolph: The Personal Laboratory.

In designing the Modulightor Building, Rudolph - as ever - explored many, many ideas: a variety of facade treatments, different uses for the various levels, alternative materials, varying building profiles—and sectional designs. While he never lived in the Modulightor Building, Rudolph did have his architectural office there for at least half-a-decade (where, most of the time, it occupied the building’s 2nd floor.) But Rudolph had alternative conceptions for the building, which included having a several-story atrium-like architectural office at the top.

Here is a Rudolph drawing which shows one such design with angled glazing and multiple levels. This colorful section is full of scale figures, and notes to himself and his team. It shows his concern about how light enters, vistas from various levels, structure, circulation, the placement of drafting boards for his staff - and even the practical consideration of drawing storage. Here, you can really see Rudolph thinking - thinking in section.

Paul Rudolph’s proposed upper level addition to the Modulightor Building. Image: Paul Rudolph Heritage Foundation archives.

Paul Rudolph’s proposed upper level addition to the Modulightor Building. Image: Paul Rudolph Heritage Foundation archives.

That drawing shows Rudolph concentrating on the uppermost levels of the building. But there’s another drawing which shows him considering the Modulightor Building as-a-whole. It’s not a very preprocessing graphic: it’s just some small, black & white pencil sketches on a letter-sized piece of paper. Indeed, when faced with the attractions of Rudolph’s other magnetically involving drawings, this is one most people would probably pass by.

Paul Rudolph’s study of the section of the Modulightor Building. Image: Paul Rudolph Heritage Foundation archives.

Paul Rudolph’s study of the section of the Modulightor Building. Image: Paul Rudolph Heritage Foundation archives.

But a careful look shows that Rudolph is trying-out alternatives for the sectional arrangement of the building. It looks like he’s taking a cue from the way Le Corbusier wove apartments together in his “Unite” apartment house designs. That’s shown in Le Corbusier’s section of two apartments, (over 3 levels), sharing a common corridor:

A section through Le Corbusier’s “Unite”

A section through Le Corbusier’s “Unite”

In the little Rudolph drawing, one can see a similar approach: he’s fitting the parts together like a puzzle, just-so—the various units are closely packed—but the arrangement allows each unit to have internal access to more than one level. Of course, Rudolph would not be satisfied with just one attempt at a design, and the drawing shows him trying varying approaches.

Once more we see: Rudolph is thinking in section.

How many other architects make that such a leading part of their design thinking?

P.S. — TAKING NOTICE

It’s nice to know that we’re not the only ones who have appreciated Rudolph’s section drawings. Here are some other resources:

  • Fosco Lucarelli has written a fine appreciation for Rudolph’s drawings, and it includes a good selection of them to enjoy and study on this website.

  • In the fascinating, recently-published collection of papers, “Reassessing Rudolph” (published by Yale University Press), the book’s editor—and preeminent Rudolph scholar—Timothy M. Rohan has an essay: “Drawing as Signature: Paul Rudolph and the Perspective Section.”

  • And Tony Monk’s excellent study, “The Art and Architecture of Paul Rudolph” includes a consideration of Rudolph’s presentation techniques. You can read Tony Monk’s essay on our website here.