Le Corbusier

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.

CONCRETE HEROES: SAVING THE MONUMENTS OF MODERN ARCHITECTURE

A review of:

CONCRETE: CASE STUDIES IN CONSERVATION PRACTICE

Edited by Catherine Croft and Susan Macdonald with Gail Ostergren
Conserving Modern Heritage series of the The Getty Conservation Institute
www.getty.edu/publications

These images, from “Concrete: Case Studies in Conservation Practice,” are from the chapter about concrete restoration at Le Corbusier’s Unité d’habitation in Marseille.

Buildings are like human bodies: over time, things happen to them—generally not good things….Even when Modern architects had the best intentions, and relied on what they thought was forward-looking and scientifically derived construction methods, the “bodies” of Modern buildings are showing their age. Some repairs are easier than others: one can re-plaster or re-apply stucco without too much trouble. But some are head-scratchers, as when, during renovation, one finds that the original architect used a product that is no longer available. That happened when renovating a famous mid-century Modern house: a plastic corrugated panel (of a type popular in that era) was not made any more—leading to an expensive custom order. But among all the materials that present themselves for repair, concrete—especially exposed concrete as used in some of Modernism’s most iconic works—is among the most difficult to work with.

We’re all familiar with classic views of Le Corbusier’s Unité d’habitation at Marseille—truly an icon of Modern architecture—but what of the reality when moisture has seeped below the surface and corroded the reinforcing, and parts of the surface have flaked off? Can it be repaired? [And by “repair”, we don’t just mean excising and replacing broken or decayed areas, but rather making the repair blend-in as much as possible, so that it does not look like a carelessly done patch. ]

Moreover, concrete buildings have their own special issues. When moisture reaches reinforcing, it not only leads to spalling (as the rusting steel expands), but also possibly undermines the structure itself—with serious consequences for the building’s integrity. Dirt from the atmosphere and streaks from flowing water adhere to concrete’s subtly fissured surfaces… Well, there’s no need to go on, as the indictments against aging concrete are already part of the pro-and-anti Modern architecture discourse—and particularly when discussing works that have been characterized as “Brutalist” [A term, by-the-way, which we dispute—but that’s another discussion.] Since a significant portion of Paul Rudolph’s oeuvre used exposed concrete—beautifully and artistically, we contend—we are naturally concerned about repair issues and techniques.

“Concrete: Case Studies in Conservation Practice” is a fascinating new book that offers hope and tangibly useful information on the repair of concrete architecture. They do it via case studies—and oh what “cases” they show: some of the most famous buildings of the Modern era!

Among their 14 case studies are:

  • Unité d’habitation by Le Corbusier

  • Brion Cemetery by Carlo Scarpa

  • New York Hall of Science by Harrison and Abramovitz

  • Morse and Ezra Stiles Colleges, Yale, by Eero Saarinen

  • Church of Saint Francis of Assisi, Pampulha by Oscar Niemeyer

  • “Untitled,” an artwork by Donald Judd

Each had its own problems, and the many authors (34 contributors in all) show the unique issues of the buildings, the solutions proposed and executed—and, finally, the superb, fresh results of their ministrations.

Did we say that the book is beautiful? One doesn’t usually expect technically-oriented studies to be visually attractive but this volume shows it can be done. The writers and editors (with Getty’s book designer for this project, Jeffrey Cohen) have assembled a wealth of good photographs (many in color), intriguing drawings (some vintage, and may newly created), and vivid diagrams—and put them together in a way that is inviting. Each case/chapter’s text clearly describes the various teams’ approaches to their building, their careful investigations, their considerations in choosing which techniques were to be used, and the consequences. Yet, while fully informative, the amount of detail is not overloaded, and can be readily digested by the interested reader. We wish more architecture/construction-science books were so appealingly and richly communicative.

There is nothing as convincing as “before and after.” This book shows a multiplicity of projects—differing in their problems, sizes, scales, locations, and building types. It makes abundantly clear that, however grim and despair-inducing concrete repair problems can be, there are effective, creative, rigorous techniques for resolving them. Bravo to the authors and editors of this fine book—and to the Getty Conservation Institute for bringing it forth. We look forward to future volumes in their Conserving Modern Heritage series.