Florida

Celebrating NATIONAL AVIATION WEEK - with Paul Rudolph !

A comprehensive designer is interested in (and interested in designing) Everything! Here are two scenes from Frank Lloyd Wright’s Broadacre City proposal—these showing examples of his flying saucer-esque personal helicopters, as well as his curious and intriguing designs for various types of roadsters and ships. Image    courtesy of Wikipedia   .

A comprehensive designer is interested in (and interested in designing) Everything! Here are two scenes from Frank Lloyd Wright’s Broadacre City proposal—these showing examples of his flying saucer-esque personal helicopters, as well as his curious and intriguing designs for various types of roadsters and ships. Image courtesy of Wikipedia.

National Aviation Week got off to a flying start on August 19th—and who better to celebrate it with than Paul Rudolph!

But hold on. Other architects have clear connections with flight. Eero Saarinen, Helmut Jahn, Minoru Yamasaki, I.M. Pei, and SOM (and, most recently, Zaha Hadid) designed some great Modern airport terminals. And Le Corbusier and Wright included aviation imagery (and fantasy) into their manifestos and projections of future living.

Le Corbusier even write a whole book expressing his delight in flight and aircraft—and used them as a symbol for forward-looking thought as well as aesthetics. His book, “Aircraft” came out in 1935, Image courtesy of    Irving Zucker Art Books.

Le Corbusier even write a whole book expressing his delight in flight and aircraft—and used them as a symbol for forward-looking thought as well as aesthetics. His book, “Aircraft” came out in 1935, Image courtesy of Irving Zucker Art Books.

Other futurists incorporated airships into inventive notions of how constrution would proceed in days to come, as in this example from Buckminster Fuller:

This is one of Buckminster Fuller’s many inventive ideas of how we could live and build in the future. He envisioned an airship delivering one of his apartment houses—so efficiently designed that the fully constructed building was light-enough to lift by dirigible—to the site. But the building would be lowered into its foundation only after the ship first dropped an explosive charge to make the hole!

This is one of Buckminster Fuller’s many inventive ideas of how we could live and build in the future. He envisioned an airship delivering one of his apartment houses—so efficiently designed that the fully constructed building was light-enough to lift by dirigible—to the site. But the building would be lowered into its foundation only after the ship first dropped an explosive charge to make the hole!

Rudolph never completed an airport. But he certainly did propose one—and it was a design with strong architectural character and inventive ideas.

Paul Rudolph: The Florida Houses, by Christopher Domin and Christopher King, is an indispensable resource for learning about the first phase of Rudolph’s career. Although the book focuses on his residential designs—the preponderance of the commissions Rudolph was receiving then—it also includes his work on other building types: schools, restaurants, beach clubs, an office building—and an airport.

Rudolph’s site plan , from the mid=1950’s, for a proposed new terminal for the Sarasota-Bradenton Airport in Florida. His terminal building is at the left side of the drawing. Image © The Estate of Paul Rudolph, The Paul Rudolph Heritage Foundation.

Rudolph’s site plan , from the mid=1950’s, for a proposed new terminal for the Sarasota-Bradenton Airport in Florida. His terminal building is at the left side of the drawing. Image © The Estate of Paul Rudolph, The Paul Rudolph Heritage Foundation.

According to Domin’s and King’s book, Rudolph’s proposed terminal would have replaced a “primitive” existing structure, and the new building would have included “…an air traffic control tower, overnight accommodations, eating facilities, and a large swimming pool to accommodate the weary traveler.” Moreover, according to an Architectural Record article of February 1957, “The qualities of lightness and precision felt necessary to an airport have been sought throughout.”—and this was conveyed by the use of open web columns and trusses.

The building, as designed, did not proceed due to budgetary issues—but we can still see that Rudolph was as inspired by aviation as many of the other master architects of his age. So let’s celebrate National Aviation Week with a toast to Paul Rudolph’s aerial aspirations!

An aerial view of the proposed terminal (dramatically drawn in 3 point perspective—a rare technique for Rudolph, or any architect). In this rendering, originally published in Architectural Record, the roof is lifted off in order to reveal the various functional areas of the building. Toward the front is a rather sizable swimming pool (as signaled by the diving board)—a nearly-unknown feature for any airport (but one that might have fit unusually well for this building’s Florida setting). Image © The Estate of Paul Rudolph, The Paul Rudolph Heritage Foundation.

An aerial view of the proposed terminal (dramatically drawn in 3 point perspective—a rare technique for Rudolph, or any architect). In this rendering, originally published in Architectural Record, the roof is lifted off in order to reveal the various functional areas of the building. Toward the front is a rather sizable swimming pool (as signaled by the diving board)—a nearly-unknown feature for any airport (but one that might have fit unusually well for this building’s Florida setting). Image © The Estate of Paul Rudolph, The Paul Rudolph Heritage Foundation.

Rudolph’s rendering of the inside of the main concourse. The double-height space is supported by the kind of trussed structures whose forms were associated with airplane construction—-the high-tech of its time. Yet there are pure architectural grace-notes, like the grand spiraling stair seen at the far-right end of the space, which connects the main floor with the upper galleries. Image © The Estate of Paul Rudolph, The Paul Rudolph Heritage Foundation.

Rudolph’s rendering of the inside of the main concourse. The double-height space is supported by the kind of trussed structures whose forms were associated with airplane construction—-the high-tech of its time. Yet there are pure architectural grace-notes, like the grand spiraling stair seen at the far-right end of the space, which connects the main floor with the upper galleries. Image © The Estate of Paul Rudolph, The Paul Rudolph Heritage Foundation.

An exterior side elevation of the terminal building. The capsule-like control tower [another saucer?—perhaps Rudolph saw Wright’s renderings?] is in the background at the right. The building’s columns appear to flare outward at their tops: a form reminiscent of the profile of ancient Minoan columns—and a silhouette that would be seen in later architectural works—from Rudolph to Nervi to Leon Krier. Image © The Estate of Paul Rudolph, The Paul Rudolph Heritage Foundation.

An exterior side elevation of the terminal building. The capsule-like control tower [another saucer?—perhaps Rudolph saw Wright’s renderings?] is in the background at the right. The building’s columns appear to flare outward at their tops: a form reminiscent of the profile of ancient Minoan columns—and a silhouette that would be seen in later architectural works—from Rudolph to Nervi to Leon Krier. Image © The Estate of Paul Rudolph, The Paul Rudolph Heritage Foundation.

Paul Rudolph’s rendering for the    Greeley Memorial Laboratory for the Yale Forestry School—   a building, on the Yale Campus, which he designed within a couple of years of his proposal for the Florida airport. While the columns at Greeley were of precast concrete    (with mathematically-derived sculptural curves)   , their overall silhouette is reminiscent of the tops of the columns at for the airport—so might it be that the airport terminal project was where those forms germinated? Image © The Estate of Paul Rudolph, The Paul Rudolph Heritage Foundation.

Paul Rudolph’s rendering for the Greeley Memorial Laboratory for the Yale Forestry School—a building, on the Yale Campus, which he designed within a couple of years of his proposal for the Florida airport. While the columns at Greeley were of precast concrete (with mathematically-derived sculptural curves), their overall silhouette is reminiscent of the tops of the columns at for the airport—so might it be that the airport terminal project was where those forms germinated? Image © The Estate of Paul Rudolph, The Paul Rudolph Heritage Foundation.

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.

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.

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's 1953 Umbrella Residence is on the list of 'Florida Buildings I Love'

Paul Rudolph’s Umbrella residence in 2018. Photo: Kelvin Dickinson, Paul Rudolph Heritage Foundation Archives

Paul Rudolph’s Umbrella residence in 2018. Photo: Kelvin Dickinson, Paul Rudolph Heritage Foundation Archives

As with Paul Rudolph’s Cocoon House, Sarasota High School, and Sanderling Beach Club, Harold Bubil—the distinguished Real Estate Editor Emeritus for Sarasota’s Herald-Tribune—has put Rudolph’s Umbrella House on his list of “Florida Buildings I Love.”

And with good reason, as the 1953 building (which has been nominated to be on the National Register of Historic Places) embraces so many still fresh architectural ideas, and was executed with economical elegance.

An Amazing Client

Philip Hiss was an extraordinary and endlessly energic character: adventurer, writer, photographer, developer, educator, traveler (with an eye to anthropology and indigenous building solutions)—and a discerning patron of Modern architecture. His own library-studio, designed by Tim Siebert in 1953, was also a local (and very Modern) landmark: a cleanly rectilinear volume, using modern construction materials, raised on a steel structure. It even included the innovation of air conditioning (to protect Hiss’ book collection)—an unusual (and, for the time, pricey) feature.

The Architect

When developing the Lido Shores neighborhood in Sarasota, Hiss chose Paul Rudolph to design the flagship home: the Umbrella House.

Pearl Harbor happened very shortly after Rudolph began his graduate architecture studies at Harvard (under the famous former director of the Bauhaus, Walter Gropius), and Rudolph (and his cohort of classmates) enlisted. Rudolph became a U.S. Navy officer, stationed at the Brooklyn Navy Yard, where he learned important lessons on construction, materials, organization, and even the style of command—a body of knowledge that was to serve him for the rest of his career. Rudolph’s adventurous & innovative use of materials—perhaps seeded by his experience of maritime construction—can be repeatedly seen n his Florida work.

After the war, Rudolph returned to for his degree. Harvard was among a number of design programs which created accelerated programs for veterans, and Rudolph was able to graduate in less than a year. Moving to Florida (which he had been told was a place of opportunity for architects), his career really got started in the Sarasota area in the mid-1940’s (tho’ he eventually did work in several parts of Florida.)

Philp Hiss had good grounds for selecting Paul Rudolph as his architect:

  • in the approximate half-decade since starting practice in Florida, Rudolph had already built an impressive number of houses

  • even though the design of his houses had a fresh and Modern feel, such construction was not necessarily more expensive: Rudolph had shown the practical ability to build on a budget

  • Hiss, from his wide travels - especially to tropical environments - had developed definite ideas about how to build for hot climates - and Rudolph’s designs were simpatico to Hiss’ concerns and requirements

Modern Character (and Innovations) in the Umbrella House’s Design

Modern architecture has been much derided (sometimes with good reason) for its endless proliferation of banal & characterless container-like buildings - or as those productions are dubbed, the “Harvard Box.” Even though Rudolph was educated, at Harvard, by Gropius - the very fountainhead of that boxy approach - you could never say that a Rudolph building is boring! Here, at the Umbrella House, he brought his always inventive-yet-practical creativity to the design of this home.

Ground Floor Plan. Image: Paul Rudolph Heritage Foundation Archives

Ground Floor Plan. Image: Paul Rudolph Heritage Foundation Archives

First Floor Plan. Image: Paul Rudolph Heritage Foundation Archives

First Floor Plan. Image: Paul Rudolph Heritage Foundation Archives

Some of its design features include:

  • One of the most intractable problems of building design in hot and sunny climates is the solar heat-load on the roof. Covering the building’s entire area, the roof becomes a giant solar heat “magnet.” Even the best-insulated roof can only ameliorate the problem to a rather limited extent—and any mitigation is further reduced when the whole environment is hot (“Florida hot!”) day-after-day. One solution - very effective, but rarely tried - is a roof-over-a-roof: the upper roof blocks the sun, and a lower roof - well-separated by air-space, and shaded from above - is the actual enclosure of the house. Rudolph went far in the direction of this approach by erecting a large, trellis-like structure over the entire house (living volume, pool, and deck) - an “umbrella” - thus giving the house its famous name.

Side Elevation. Image: Paul Rudolph Heritage Foundation Archives

Side Elevation. Image: Paul Rudolph Heritage Foundation Archives

  • Rudolph raised the volume (enclosing the interior living spaces) above the ground plane. Not only did this separate the body of the house from ground-borne moisture, but it also reinforced the visual purity of the architecture: the main component of the house—the one that defined the interiors—seemed to float, and the volume’s edges were well-defined by the shadow-line at its bottom.

Pool-side Elevation. Image: Paul Rudolph Heritage Foundation Archives

Pool-side Elevation. Image: Paul Rudolph Heritage Foundation Archives

  • Most architects, when designing, primarily focus on the plan (and then the elevations). But Paul Rudolph thought in section—something that even his colleagues jealously admit is rare among architects. His orientation to sectional analysis led him to creating spaces with a profound variety of ceiling heights—and his ability to manipulate space allowed him to create the two major kinds of environments that people like to occupy:  large, open spaces (which Rudolph characterized as “the fishbowl”) and enclosed, snug spaces (which he called “the cave”). The height of the Umbrella House was the canvas within which he could compose such spatial experiences. The double-height living room was airy and commodious—but, tucked beneath the stairs, was the Florida incarnation of a fireplace inglenook for reading and cozy conversation.

  • Even though the entire house—including pool and its deck—was under the roof’s trellis-like shade, Rudolph provided a particularly protected sitting area (at the far end of the pool): this is a lowered, solid roof, which not only offered definitive blocking to the sun, but also fulfilled the occupants’ psychological needs for a well-defined seating area.

Preservation

In the mid-1960’s, the house suffered some hurricane damage, and in the subsequent decades it came into a state of disrepair. In 2005 it was partially restored---and then later sold, and restored by Hall Architects (for which it won several outstanding awards for preservation.)

Christopher J. Berger did an extensive thesis about the challenges of preserving works of the “Sarasota School”—and one of the buildings he focused-upon is the Umbrella house. You can see his full, well-researched thesis—which includes extensive historical context on building in Sarasota, and the fascinating cast-of-characters involved—here: http://etd.fcla.edu/UF/UFE0041751/berger_c.pdf

City Recognition—and National Register Nomination

The Umbrella House has been designated as an historic landmark of the City of Sarasota. 

Photo: Kelvin Dickinson, Paul Rudolph Heritage Foundation Archives

Photo: Kelvin Dickinson, Paul Rudolph Heritage Foundation Archives

David Conway—deputy managing editor of the Sarasota-based YourObserver.comwrites that the Umbrella House is a “a defining work of the Sarasota School of Architecture,” and reports:

Backed by the state Bureau of Historic Preservation, the Umbrella House has been nominated for a slot on the National Register of Historic Places. The two-story home in Lido Shores, designed by Paul Rudolph and built in 1953, is frequently cited as one of the standout works from the midcentury Sarasota School of Architecture movement.

Although dozens of structures within the city are listed on the National Register of Historic Places, most of them date to previous waves of development in the early 1900s. The Umbrella House is set to become one of the few Sarasota School works on the National Register, joining the Rudolph-designed Sarasota High School addition and the Scott Building at 265 S. Orange Ave.

The Umbrella House already has a local historic designation, which offers incentives for rehabilitation and requires city review of proposed changes to the home. In 2015, the Umbrella House was renovated to re-create its namesake “umbrella” structure, designed to shade the residence.

City Planner Cliff Smith said the national designation was another way the property owners are attempting to secure the Umbrella House’s historic legacy. On Tuesday, the city’s Historic Preservation Board voted unanimously to endorse the application, which a national committee will consider in August.

Smith said the designation would add to the significance of an architectural movement in which the community has taken great pride.

“The Sarasota School of Architecture, that unique form of building that’s indigenous to the city of Sarasota — we’re very happy that’s reached national status,” Smith said.

Paul Rudolph's Walker Guest House For Sale

Image: © Ezra Stoller / Esto

Image: © Ezra Stoller / Esto

The Paul Rudolph Heritage Foundation has learned that Paul Rudolph’s iconic Walker Guest House will be for sale in the coming weeks. The listing will include the Walker Guest House and the main gulf-front residence on a 1.6 acre lot for $6,795,000.

The 1952 project was the first commission received by the thirty-four year old Rudolph after he left his partnership with Ralph Twitchell. Rudolph would later describe it as one of his favorite homes, saying the home “crouches like a spider in the sand.” The project would also be known as the ‘Cannonball House’ because of Rudolph’s use of red cannonballs as weights to hold the home’s signature wood panels in place.

Rudolph’s renderings showing the movable flaps for privacy. Image: Paul Rudolph Heritage Foundation Archives

According to Rudolph in the 1970 book The Architecture of Paul Rudolph by Sibyl Moholy-Nagy,

"Two bays on each side of this guest cottage are filled with pivoting panels which function as
1  the enclosing wall,
2  the ventilating element,
3  the shading device,
4  the hurricane shelter.
The third bay is filled with glass, to admit light and splendid views. When the panels are closed, the pavilion is snug and cave-like, when open the space psychologically changes and one is virtually in the landscape."

Plan with raised wall elements.  Two sections each of all four walls can be swung upwards into a horizontal position, steel balls suspended from steel cables provide counter balances.  All connections of the white painted wooden structure are joined by screws.  Image: Paul Rudolph Heritage Foundation Archives

Plan with raised wall elements. Two sections each of all four walls can be swung upwards into a horizontal position, steel balls suspended from steel cables provide counter balances. All connections of the white painted wooden structure are joined by screws. Image: Paul Rudolph Heritage Foundation Archives

Author Tim Rohan wrote about the significance of the guest house in Curbed,

The Walker House was Rudolph's complex tribute to and critique of the International Style's most celebrated dwelling, the Farnsworth House by Mies van der Rohe (Plano, IL, 1946-51). With its lightweight, white wood frame, the Walker House was Rudolph's "poor man's" version of the Farnsworth's expensive white, steel frame, whose beauty he could not help but admire. Rudolph corrected the main drawback of the Farnsworth House, evident as well in the Glass House (New Canaan, CT, 1945-49) by Philip Johnson: lack of privacy. Edith Farnsworth felt exposed by her house's glass walls, which she was powerless to change. For privacy, Johnson retreated to the almost windowless confines of his adjacent Brick House. Rudolph rectified this drawback by allowing the user to adjust the shutters of the Walker House for privacy and to suit their moods. Rudolph explained, "With all the panels lowered the house is a snug cottage, but when the panels are raised it becomes a large screened pavilion. If you desire to retire from the world you have a cave, but when you feel good there is the joy of an open pavilion." The Walker House set Rudolph upon the path to concluding that architecture was the art of manipulating space in order to affect and reflect human emotions, as was evident from the interior complexity of his Brutalist buildings, the most famed being his Yale Art & Architecture Building (New Haven, CT, 1958-63).

Many architecture students have studied the design and built models of it while in school making it one of Rudolph’s best known early works along with his 1961 Milam Residence. The home was also recognized by the AIA Florida chapter as ‘Best Residential Building in the State of Florida’ in 2012.

Please spread the word about the upcoming sale and if you know anyone interested in preserving the house, please reach out to us at office@paulrudolphheritagefoundation.org

Paul Rudolph's 1952 Sanderling Beach Club is one of the 'Florida Buildings I Love'

Photo: Paul Rudolph Heritage Foundation Archives

Photo: Paul Rudolph Heritage Foundation Archives

Harold Bubil, Real Estate Editor Emeritus for the Herald-Tribune, writes in the newspaper that Paul Rudolph’s Sanderling Beach Club is one of his favorite buildings in Florida.

The project was begun when developer Elbridge S. Boyd originally formed Siesta Properties, Inc. in 1946 with the plan to create a residential community in the area. In 1951, a homeowners association for residents of Siesta Properties known as the Siesta Club was founded. A year later in 1952, a cabana club was proposed to house guests of the local residents.

According to the website Satasota History Alive,

Local architect Paul Rudolph was selected to design the clubhouse, cabanas and observation tower. The initial phase, built in 1952, consisted of a concrete patio with a small white wooden observatory. The platform, about 10 feet up, was reached by a simple set of stairs, along the east side and furnished with chairs and a table. On either side of the patio was a single-story structure containing five cabanas each. A two-bay restroom building was located east of the tower. Each of these structures displayed a distinctive roof consisting of a series of shallow vaults constructed of thin plywood. Several resident-members participated in the construction of these early buildings.

Rudolph’s first proposal for the project. Image: Paul Rudolph Heritage Foundation Archives

Rudolph’s final proposal - note the revised design of the lookout. Image: Paul Rudolph Heritage Foundation Archives

Rudolph’s final proposal - note the revised design of the lookout. Image: Paul Rudolph Heritage Foundation Archives

Rudolph’s rendering of the final scheme. Image: Paul Rudolph Heritage Foundation Archives

Paul Rudolph looking out from the constructed observatory. Photo: Library of Congress

According to the website Satasota History Alive:

By 1958 three more buildings, with five cabanas each, were constructed by local contractor John Innes. Three new cabana buildings, which followed Paul Rudolph's design for the original two buildings, were arranged in a stepped line extending south of the original group. “A tennis court had been built, a life boat and telephone provided a measure of swimming safety to the area, and Sunday lunches were being held underneath table umbrellas.”

A clubhouse was not constructed until 1960, although included in Rudolph's original plans. John Crowell was hired to prepare the plans for the new two-story building. It was to abut the existing restroom building on the south and contain five Rudolph-style cabanas on the second floor. It was also expected to align with the shell roofed observation tower. However, a lack of structural integrity was recognized in the tower soon after its construction. For a time people were no longer allowed on the platform. The entire tower was torn down in the late 1960s.

The current site. Photo: Google Maps

Typical Cabana Floor Plan. Image: Paul Rudolph Heritage Foundation Archives

Writes Bubil:

The Gulf-front site demanded modestly sized structures that sat lightly on the sand and provided shelter for the tenants, some of whom have rented their cabanas for decades and have decorated the interiors to suit personal tastes and needs.

Rudolph’s early Sarasota structures often were experiments, and that was the case at Sanderling. The arched roofs are made from curved plywood, a material he learned about while serving at the Brooklyn Navy Yard during World War II. The posts are economically made of doubled-up 2-by-4s.

But it is the spirit of the cabanas that defines Rudolph’s creativity. The wave-like form of the roofs is appropriate for the site, and the simply geometry of the cabanas makes them look like delicately sized temples for sun worshipping.

On June 29, 1994, the project was added to the U.S. National Register of Historic Places.

Paul Rudolph's 1950 Cocoon House is one of the 'Florida Buildings I Love'

The exterior in 2017. Photo: Kelvin Dickinson, Paul Rudolph Heritage Foundation

The exterior in 2017. Photo: Kelvin Dickinson, Paul Rudolph Heritage Foundation

Paul Rudolph’s rendering of the exterior. Image: Paul Rudolph Heritage Foundation

Paul Rudolph’s rendering of the exterior. Image: Paul Rudolph Heritage Foundation

Harold Bubil, Real Estate Editor Emeritus for the Herald-Tribune, writes in the newspaper that Paul Rudolph’s Healy guest house, known commonly as the Cocoon House, is one of his favorite buildings in Florida.

The exterior in 2017. Photo: Kelvin Dickinson, Paul Rudolph Heritage Foundation

The exterior in 2017. Photo: Kelvin Dickinson, Paul Rudolph Heritage Foundation

The reason for the name comes from the use of a technology - new at the time - to waterproof the roof. Writes Bubil:

During World War II, both Twitchell, who commanded an air base in South Carolina, and Rudolph, who was stationed at the Brooklyn Navy Yard, learned about new technologies materials that could be applied to residential construction. Rudolph took note of the sprayed-on vinyl used to mothball ships, called “cocoon.”

Paul Rudolph’s rendering of the exterior. Image: Paul Rudolph Heritage Foundation

Paul Rudolph’s rendering of the exterior. Image: Paul Rudolph Heritage Foundation

While many see the house as a landmark of the Sarasota School of Architecture for its simple structure, use of glass and elevation above the surrounding landscape - Rudolph saw it as a failure. Writes Bubil,

It was “OK on the outside, but the interior space was not successful,” Rudolph, who died in 1997, once told architect Peter Blake in an interview. “The apparent instability of the sagging ceiling and the thrusting of space upward to the perimeter, inviting you to leave — this violated the essential nature of an intimate, domestic space. The Healy Cottage taught me that the physiological nature of the space in every building was really more important than the form of the structure.”

Paul Rudolph’s rendering of the interior. Image: Paul Rudolph Heritage Foundation

Paul Rudolph’s rendering of the interior. Image: Paul Rudolph Heritage Foundation

The psychological effect of space would continue to occupy the rest of Rudolph’s career - making this important building one that Rudolph fans and followers of modern architecture can share with similar appreciation.

Paul Rudolph celebrated in Architectural Digest

Pool with slatted wood “umbrella” canopy, Rudolph’s Umbrella House. Photo: Anton Grassl

Pool with slatted wood “umbrella” canopy, Rudolph’s Umbrella House. Photo: Anton Grassl

Paul Rudolph’s Centennial and the upcoming SarasotaMOD Weekend in November are featured in the latest online version of Architectural Digest. The article features photos of Rudolph’s Sarasota High School, Healy Guest House and the Umbrella (Hiss) Residence. We couldn’t agree more with the article’s conclusion:

A century after his birth, Rudolph is finally getting his full due for the residences he designed in Florida.
— Architectural Digest

Paul Goldberger to deliver keynote at Sarasota's MODweek

Photo:

Harold Bubil writes in the Herald Tribune, Pulitzer Prize-winning author Paul Goldberger will deliver the keynote address titled “The Rudolph Legacy” at the upcoming Sarasota MOD Weekend architecture festival on November 9-11.

Mr. Goldberger has spoken before at Modulightor about Rudolph’s work, and also in the 1984 documentary “Spaces: The Architecture of Paul Rudolph”. He also led a panel discussion about Rudolph at the Rededication of Rudolph Hall at Yale and wrote numerous articles about Rudolph for the New York Times.

Mr. Goldberger will deliver the keynote address at 11 a.m. Saturday, Nov. 10, at Holley Hall in the Beatrice Friedman Symphony Center, 709 N. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota. For more information about the upcoming MOD Weekend festival, go to the Sarasota Architectural Foundation’s website here: sarasotaarchitecturalfoundation.org and sarasotamod.com