Paul Rudolph was involved in so many tributaries of the world of design—architecture, urbanism, interiors, furniture, and lighting. But also in design education in its many forms: teaching, writing, lecturing, mentoring, and—most famously—as chair of Yale’s architecture school from 1958 to 1965.
In his Yale Alumni Day speech, given as he was about to assume the chairmanship, he concluded with these ever-thrilling, adventurous, and toughly challenging words:
We must understand that after all the building committees, the conflicting interests, the budget considerations, and the limitations of his fellow man have been taken into consideration, the architect’s responsibility has just begun. He must understand that exhilarating, awesome moment.
When he takes pencil in hand, and holds it poised above a white sheet of paper, he has suspended there all that has gone before and all that will ever be.
Under his leadership, he helped the school become one of the country’s most dynamic places to get an architectural education—and not the least of those reasons is the great diversity and quality of teachers and guest jurors which Rudolph invited to the school.
These were certainly not all people who agreed with Rudolph. An example would be Serge Chermayeff, who was invited by Rudolph to come to Yale—and became a rather controversial figure within the school.
In an oral history interview about his years of educational work (in Chicago and elsewhere), Chermayeff recalled:
I left in 1962 to go to Rudolph in Yale and he very typically said, “I’d love to have somebody on the jury with whom I can argue in front of the students.” That suited me very well because I’m very argumentative. I had a lovely time because he was a very nice man, I liked him very much and we got on very, very well.
The 7 years that Rudolph was chair at Yale - a good long run, for any chair or dean - continue to fascinate.
Numerous former students of Rudolph affirm that it was a super-intense (and maybe the) key educational experience of their lives, as Norman Foster did in his heart-felt essay on Rudolph. [It is one of several chapters devoted to Paul Rudolph in Architects on Architects, edited by Susan Gray.]
In the compulsively readable, pulls-no-punches memoir by the ever-creative Stanley Tigerman, Designing Bridges To Burn—truly a must-read!—he also shares scenes and feelings from his years as a student at Yale (and, simultaneously, a part-time employee of Rudolph.)
Here’s a brief quote from it:
“For Paul Rudolph, architecture and life were inextricably intertwined. He lived, breathed, slept, lectured, taught, and of course practiced architecture. I was thoroughly bedazzled by the depth of his commitment to unpacking the never-endling layers of space and mas that architecture represented for him. He was, other than simply being a superb teacher, the consummate architect, if by that one means a person who, in a Zen-like sense “became” his work. In all these years of practicing the discipline, if there was anyone I met who “walked the walk” it was Paul Marvin Rudolph.”
Robert A. M. Stern was an architecture student at Yale during the Rudolph years - in fact, Stern’s thesis was presented at the last review which Rudolph attended before leaving the chairmanship in 1965. Paprika (the student publication of Yale’s architecture school) conducted a fascinating, wise, and hilarious interview with Stern, just before he stepped-down from the deanship at Yale. Paul Rudolph comes up quite alot - and we really recommend a full reading of this extraordinarily frank and fun session.
For a comprehensive overview - a deep and utterly interesting dive - into a century of the history of Yale’s School of Architecture, we recommend looking at this fascinating book - a copy of which we’ve just acquired for the library of the Paul Rudolph Heritage Foundation:
Pedagogy and Place: 100 Years of Architecture Education at Yale
By Robert A. M. Stern and Jimmy Stamp
Published by the Yale University Press
The book—spanning from 1916 -to- the school’s centennial in 2016—covers its early traditional and Beaus-Arts beginnings, it’s turn towards Modernism, the Rudolph era, and the interesting transformations since then. But, while deeply & fully-researched and aplenty with citations, this is not dry academic writing—instead: it is a richly told story, with strong personalities that are vividly portrayed.
The section dealing with the years when Rudolph was chair is titled “A Time of Heroics 1958-1965”—and here are a few shots of illustrated page spreads from that chapter:
Rudolph-as-Educator is an enticing potential focus for further research, and we would like to return to it in the future. If any readers would like to share memoires (or materials) relating to this, we’d certainly welcome them - and that would fuel additional explorations of this important subject.
If there’s anything you’d like to share, please feel welcome to contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org