PRHF Archive

RUDOLPH’S FIRST DESIGN?

An illustration from the cover of a 1938 issue of “The Plainsman”, the official student newspaper of the Alabama Technical Institute (now: Auburn University). Could this be Paul Rudolph’s first published design? Image from an original newspaper clipping in the archives of the Paul Rudolph Heritage Foundation.

An illustration from the cover of a 1938 issue of “The Plainsman”, the official student newspaper of the Alabama Technical Institute (now: Auburn University). Could this be Paul Rudolph’s first published design? Image from an original newspaper clipping in the archives of the Paul Rudolph Heritage Foundation.

BEFORE YALE AND BEFORE HARVARD: ALABAMA!

When it comes to educational institutions, Paul Rudolph is most strongly associated with Yale, where he was chair of the architecture department from 1958 -to- 1965 (a good, long run for any chair or dean). If we were to think about his educational involvements a bit further, one would focus on Harvard: there he received his Master’s degree, studying during a period when Walter Gropius (1883-1969) was in charge of the architecture program.

A studio project by Paul Rudolph, made while he was completing his Masters degree in Harvard’s architecture program, then under the direction of Walter Gropius. The house was to be sited in Siesta Key, FL, and was known as “Weekend House for an Architect” (and was later transformed into his design for the Finney Guest House project.)    Image courtesy of Harvard student work archives.

A studio project by Paul Rudolph, made while he was completing his Masters degree in Harvard’s architecture program, then under the direction of Walter Gropius. The house was to be sited in Siesta Key, FL, and was known as “Weekend House for an Architect” (and was later transformed into his design for the Finney Guest House project.)

Image courtesy of Harvard student work archives.

But where did Rudolph’s architectural eduction actually begin? There’s abundant evidence that he was interested in architecture, design, and art from an early age (in addition to a youthful involvement with music—which also became a life-long focus). A letter from his mother recounts his boyhood explorations in design. And Rudolph’s own memory, about his first experience of a Frank Lloyd Wright building (at about age 13) testifies to the impression that it made on him.

His formal education commenced at the Alabama Technical Institute—now known as Auburn University. It was a traditionally-oriented architecture program, but the students were also made aware of Modern developments. By all accounts, Rudolph excelled—and we have his grade report for the first semester of 1939-1940:

Rudolph’s highest grades show his great focus on design—and music.    Document is from the archives of the Paul Rudolph Heritage Foundation.

Rudolph’s highest grades show his great focus on design—and music.

Document is from the archives of the Paul Rudolph Heritage Foundation.

HIS FIRST DESIGN?

Among the other documents in the archives of the Paul Rudolph Heritage Foundation is a clipping from The Plainsman—then and now, the school’s official student newspaper. The article, from February 9, 1938, shows a pen-and-ink rendering of a proposed campus gateway, and the caption says the the Senior Class of ’38 may fund it.

What’s intriguing to us is the signature on the drawing: Rudolph

The caption confirms the authorship, saying “Drawing by Paul Rudolph”—and combined with the fact that Rudolph had held onto the clipping for decades (whence its origin in our archives) connects him firmly to the drawing.

The rendering, tantalizingly, is signed by Rudolph—but is it his design?

The rendering, tantalizingly, is signed by Rudolph—but is it his design?

For a while, it looked like the project was going forward. An follow-up article in the February 23rd issue of The Plainsman showed the same rendering, and reported:

SENIORS APPROVE MAIN GATE

Proposed Gateway: Construction work upon the Senior Main Gate, for which the senior class showed a decided preference in the election last Wednesday, will begin as soon as the architect in charge has completed the exact plans and specifications for its building. It will be situated at the South-East corner of the campus across from the “Y” Hut. But a subsequent story, exactly one month later, reported that the project had been “dropped”—the explanation being that the projected cost far outstripped the original rough estimates, and “… no gate worthy of the class or the school could be constructed with the money appropriated.”

The gate remains, to our knowledge, unbuilt. But beyond these few facts, the mysteries of history begin, and we wonder:

  • Did Rudolph create that design? The caption says “Drawing by…”, but does not make clear the authorship of the design.

  • If it was his design, was the gate a project assigned to his class, with Rudolph’s scheme the one that stood-out among his classmates (and hence was chosen)?

  • Or was it the design by someone else—perhaps one of the professors or a local professional—and Rudolph only did the rendering?

  • If the latter, was the rendering done as a course project—perhaps an exercise in perspective rendering?—or did he volunteer, or was this a freelance project?

  • The second article about the project, quoted above, mentions “the architect in charge”—but who was that, and what was their relation to the design in the rendering? Could it have been a local firm (which handled the school’s routine work)—but the design was Rudolph’s

All tantalizing questions—but where or how could one find any convincing answers? The facts may be hidden in a diary, or stray letter—or nowhere. We may hope for some later revelation, for some illuminating document that comes to light—and things are sometimes found—but we must face the fact there are many more cases where history will never reveal her secrets.

RUDOLPH DID BUILD AT AUBURN

Paul Rudolph did eventually build at his old school: he designed the Kappa Sigma Fraternity House (the society to which he belonged as a student)—a frank, Modern design, from the early 1960’s.

Time passed and the building, after years of service, no longer fit the needs of the fraternity. They wrote to Rudolph, asking if he’d engage in a renovation—but, according to a letter in our archives, he told them that it would be better if they worked with someone locally. This brings up another mystery: Rudolph worked all over the country, indeed, internationally—and he was not un-used to being asked to come back and do alterations or changes on his already-built designs. So why would the distance from his office to Alabama present any difficulty? We’ll probably never know his reasons for the rebuff.

After Rudolph’s passing, Preston Philips—an architect who had gone onto a distinguished career, after having worked for Rudolph—visited the building. According to his April 25, 2007 letter in the Paul Rudolph Heritage Foundation archives, he reported that the fraternity had abandoned the it several years before, and the building was owned by the University. It stood empty and “in desperate condition”—though “largely intact”, and “beautifully sited in a Pine grove on a large corner site.” However, water was intruding due to some roof and glazing problems. Mr. Philips hoped that the University might find another use for the building and renovate, possibly as a guest house for visiting dignitaries and a place for dinners and receptions—but he was fearful that without some quick action, the building could be lost.

Regrettably, the building was demolished in 2016.

The Kappa Sigma Fraternity House at Auburn University, Auburn, AL. Paul Rudolph, architect.  Photograph: Paul Rudolph Heritage Foundation.

The Kappa Sigma Fraternity House at Auburn University, Auburn, AL. Paul Rudolph, architect.

Photograph: Paul Rudolph Heritage Foundation.



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.

Previously unseen Rudolph project donated to the Foundation's archives

Rudolph’s Medical Arts Building project in Singapore. Image: Paul Rudolph Heritage Foundation Archives

Rudolph’s Medical Arts Building project in Singapore. Image: Paul Rudolph Heritage Foundation Archives

Paul Rudolph’s 1990 proposal for a Medical Arts Building in Singapore was donated to the archives of the Paul Rudolph Heritage Foundation by Jeremy Moser, a former Rudolph employee. He also donated other project materials which will be covered in future posts.

The site today. Image: Google Maps

Rudolph’s proposed site plan. Image: Paul Rudolph Heritage Foundation Archives

The project was never built. Along with a site plan and elevation, copies of the floor plans showing Rudolph’s characteristic alternating pinwheel floorplans:

The plans are dated February 16th, 1990 and list Rudolph’s office as 246 East 58th Street. Rudolph’s offices were on the second floor of the building, where the offices of the Paul Rudolph Heritage Foundation are located today.

Photos of Rudolph's residence added to the archives of the Paul Rudolph Heritage Foundation

Photo of Rudolph’s residence taken in the early 90’s. Photo: Robert Schwartz; Paul Rudolph Heritage Foundation Archives

Photo of Rudolph’s residence taken in the early 90’s. Photo: Robert Schwartz; Paul Rudolph Heritage Foundation Archives

The Paul Rudolph Heritage Foundation was visited by Robert Schwartz, an architect who came to see the recent exhibit, ‘Paul Rudolph: The Personal Laboratory’ at the Foundation’s headquarters in the Modulightor building which featured Mr. Rudolph’s residence on 31 High Street. Afterwards, he spoke to us and showed photos of the space when he lived there from 1990-1993.

He donated copies of the photos to the Foundation’s growing archives of Paul Rudolph’s architectural works. These will be used to update the model which was based on Mr. Rudolph’s drawings and black and white historical photos.

Rudolph’s drawing of the first floor. Image: Paul Rudolph Heritage Foundation Archives

Rudolph’s drawing of the first floor. Image: Paul Rudolph Heritage Foundation Archives

Rudolph’s drawing of the second floor. Image: Paul Rudolph Heritage Foundation Archives

Rudolph’s drawing of the second floor. Image: Paul Rudolph Heritage Foundation Archives

According to Mr. Schwartz, the floor was white marble (we had assumed brick!) in a herringbone pattern. The steps were the same white marble inset into a metal frame, hung off the wall. The brown cushion shown in the photos was original from Rudolph’s design.

Mr. Schwartz noted a few errors in the model such as a small water feature located outside in the yard. He also said the house had a number of tenants after Mr. Rudolph moved out before he lived in the space - including a rumored funeral parlor. He also pointed out details like doors and areas of the building that were not included in Rudolph’s drawings of the addition.

Sadly, the building was eventually turned into a residence for a local fraternity who made major changes including enclosing Rudolph’s floating staircase.

Thanks to Mr. Schwartz’s contribution to the Foundation’s archives we have another chapter to add to the history of this iconic project. For more photos, please see the links below.