Film & Video

Paul Rudolph - On Film & Video



If you’re interested in Paul Rudolph, you’re probably already getting to know his many buildings and urban design projects. The Paul Rudolph Heritage Foundation’s Project Pages are a great way to learn about the great breadth of his work, over Rudolph’s half-century of practice.

Of course, there are superb books on Rudolph—and perhaps you might already be looking into Rudolph’s own writings—of which there is a fine anthology published by Yale University Press.

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But what was he like, in person? - what was Rudolph’s voice and presence like? We have, in books (and in the PRHF’s files) a variety of testimonies by students, employees, friends, and clients. Some of them will be published in the upcoming catalog of the recent centennial exhibit: Paul Rudolph: The Personal Laboratory (and we may also share even more of them, in upcoming postings).

But for a more lifelike experience, there are also a several videos that you might want to seek out:


Paul Rudolph speaking about the ‘DNA of Architecture’. Photo: SCI-Arc Media Archive, YouTube

Paul Rudolph speaking about the ‘DNA of Architecture’. Photo: SCI-Arc Media Archive, YouTube

Rudolph wrote an essay with this same title—you can read it in the anthology of his writings mentioned above—and he also delivered it as an illustrated lecture, of which this is a recording. This video is viewable on YouTube, and is from the SCI-Arc Media Archive. This lecture was given on September 2, 1995, and is described as follows:

Ray Kappe introduces Paul Rudolph, discussing Rudolph’s break onto the post WWII architecture scene and his influence on Kappe and his contemporaries. Kappe goes on to explain Rudolph’s significant role in architectural institutions including his tenure as dean of Yale’s architecture school. Ultimately, he describes Rudolph as a man of architectural principles unencumbered by fad.

Rudolph begins his lecture by discussing the importance of urbanism and site in his thinking about architecture, focusing on the assembly of parts rather than on issues of style. He describes the transition in architecture away from the traditional hierarchies in building types and toward architecture of multiple usages including the flows and geometries of automotive transportation. He cites examples such as the use of air-space for structures above the expressway along the East River in New York and looks back to classical examples of flexible column spacing to accommodate chariot dimensions.

Rudolph describes architecture as used space that accommodates the human spirit. He sees characteristics such as forms, dimensions, colors, and method of entry as appropriate or not appropriate for building types in terms of the psychological satisfaction to the user. He additionally focuses on movement through space and the balance of forces involved in movement’s creation, its velocity, and its ultimate destination. He decries the lack of well-designed public space in the United States and the isolation of most highrises. He presents some recent examples of his attempts to resolve this issue in highrise construction through greater connectivity at multiple levels.

Rudolph stresses the importance of both structure and scale. Rudolph’s primary interest in structure is in the generation of space, asserting that truth of structure is much less important than the resulting spatial relationships. He goes on to touch on the use of materials as similarly important in the creation of the spirit of the space, citing Louis Sullivan, Mies van der Rohe and Le Corbusier who played with and pushed the boundaries of material properties. Rudolph also suggests that there is no such thing as “in” or “out of scale.” Instead, all architecture operates at multiple scales and the play of light and the implied relationships are the important outcomes. Rudolph concludes his lecture by addressing function, the selling of a building to a client and the importance of spirit in architecture. Going through a few recent works, Rudolph discusses the use of the ostensibly functional in generating architecture that both achieves its stated goal while providing additional urban and psychological benefits for those who engage with it. He explains the importance of this spirit in architecture with examples from Machu Picchu to Frank Lloyd Wright’s Johnson Wax building which demonstrate urban delight, the importance of the play of light and the ability for architecture to move space.


Paul Rudolph speaking about the Bond Centre. Image: Film Factory, YouTube

Paul Rudolph speaking about the Bond Centre. Image: Film Factory, YouTube

This brief video was made by the Film Factory in 1989, and is viewable on Youtube. It shows Rudolph speaking about his major built project in Hong Kong: the magnificent double-towers of the Bond Centre (also known as the Lippo Centre).


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Robert Eisenhardt is a very distinguished filmmaker - and his work as director, producer, writer, cinematographer, and editor has resulted in an extensive CV of beautiful and important films. A fine example is Spaces: The Architecture of Paul Rudolph, his 1983 Academy Award-nominated documentary about the great architect. It is not presently available to see on-line, and was last available as a videotape. A few years ago, Mr. Eisenhardt presented it at in New York, at the Architecture & Design Film Festival - to the delight of all who attended. It is not currently available, to our knowledge, on DVD or in any other form, but the Paul Rudolph Heritage Foundation shows it to students and guests who tour the Paul Rudolph-designed Modulightor Building.

Ernst Wagner, a friend and colleague of Paul Rudolph, offered the following notes on the film:

This 1983 film, made while Paul Rudolph was alive (and with his cooperation), was nominated for an Academy Award (Best Documentary, Short Subjects, 1984), and won an Emmy (Outstanding Achievement in a Craft in News and Documentary Programming – Directors, 1984).

It is important to know the cultural setting within which this film was made. From the early-to-mid-1970’s, onwards, there was a nationwide cultural development: it was as though Modernism in architecture was “out and ugly”—and the shift in attitude seemed to arrive almost overnight.   

One might say: “Rightfully so!” - judging from the poor quality of what had been built then, particularly in the lower tiers of construction and design. But, as we experienced, the raging age of Postmodernism was short-lived - and, ironically, it also often resulted in designs that were essentially ordinary and mediocre.   

Eisenhardt’s documentary, Spaces, was created during that era, at the height of the anti-Modernism cultural wave. As a consequence, various people in the film, offering their assessments Rudolph, are critical about the value of his work. But that has to be considered as a manifestation of the times - and it is worth noting that, a number of years later, some of the same “opinionators” shifted their ratings, offering substantially more positive views of Rudolph (as their later testimonials show.)

Thus we see that most fashions (and the critical opinions they generate) are fragile and contingent. Whereas Modernism, growing from the Bauhaus culture, then taking root in the United States, is now regarded as an respected architectural period - just as we experience other distinguished historic periods in the history of architecture.

In its many and richly varied versions, Modernism has also become an important “export” of America’s culture - and Paul Rudolph was one of its most prolific, strongest, creative, and vivid practitioners.

We hope that this wonderful documentary will be more widely available in the future.

1983, USA
29 Minutes
Film Documentary, 16mm, Color, Sound
Written, Directed, and Edited by Bob Eisenhardt
Eisenhardt Productions
Narrated by Cliff Robertson
Cinematography by John Corso, Edward Lachman, Don Lenzer, and Mark Obenhaus
Music by Teo Macero