Rudolph Project

Rudolph Reimagined: A New York Family’s Reworking of an Iconic Rudolph Interior

“It’s pretty darn original,” Carolyn Rowan says with a beaming smile as she shows me into the living room of her family’s stunning apartment on Manhattan’s Upper East Side; and indeed it is. Described by Ms. Rowan as a “labor of love,” her apartment’s interior is one of particular note for more than purely aesthetic reasons. Redesigned for banker Maurits Edersheim and his wife Claire in 1970 from its original 1917 form, the interior of the 5th-floor apartment is a noted example of Paul Rudolph’s interior works.

When Ms. Rowan and her husband, Marc—longtime residents of the 6th floor—purchased the apartment, they made a promise to Claire Edersheim, who often spoke about how she and Maurits “built the apartment with Rudolph,” that it would remain largely unaltered and that she and her husband would do little to mar or obscure Rudolph’s mastery. The end result of this promise, which was lovingly undertaken with the assistance of noted interior designer Tony Ingrao, is a sleek and retro space that, while more contemporary, retains the Rudolphian whimsy that makes it so unique.

Pictured: A before shot, taken by Anthony Cotsifas courtesy of 1stDibs.com above an after shot, taken by Ethan Shapiro

The heart of Rudolph’s vision remains, but in an updated form. Original 1970’s features like track lighting have been supplanted by more modern fixtures, and features like the unique “u” shaped couch, which the Rowans remade in the exact same footprint as the one Ms. Edersheim took with her when she sold the unit, has been reupholstered in a more muted fabric.

Pictured: A before shot, taken by Anthony Cotsifas courtesy of 1stDibs.com above an after shot, taken by Ethan Shapiro

Unfortunately, many Rudolph interiors are lost, razed by later homeowners who lack a knowledge of his significance or an appreciation of his works, which is why it’s important to emphasize renovations like the one undertaken by the Rowan family. As pictured above, the Rowans’ transformed the office space from its original seventies feel to one that was better suited to their own taste, while retaining Rudolph’s couch, desk, stair-shelves, and ceiling decoration.

Pictured: A before shot, taken by Anthony Cotsifas courtesy of 1stDibs.com next to an after shot, taken by Genevieve Garruppo courtesy of Tony Ingrao Design’s Intagram

The Rowan renovation shows how an owner of a Rudolph property or interior can still allow for Rudolph’s details to shine through, like the mirrored walls and kidney-shaped sofa seen above.

Pictured: A before shot, taken by Anthony Cotsifas courtesy of 1stDibs.com next to an after shot, taken by Ethan Shapiro

The hallway, pictured above, received the most changes — however, Rudolph’s design is still present in the sloping walls that punctuate the center right of the hallway, which was once the playroom of the Edersheim children (and is now a foyer that leads to the second story of the Rowan duplex).

Pictured: A before shot, taken by Anthony Cotsifas courtesy of 1stDibs.com next to an after shot, taken by Ethan Shapiro

The dining room, seen above, has been repainted in an airy white, and retains the original Paul Rudolph dining table, which cleverly breaks apart into three smaller, circular tables whose connecting leaves fold neatly under the shelving unit against the wall. Though bereft of the delft pottery it was made to showcase, the unique feature wall Rudolph designed still remains in its original form.

Pictured: A before shot provided by Carolyn Rowan next to an after shot taken by Ethan Shapiro

It isn’t easy to be the steward of an iconic property, especially one full of original architectural details. Luckily, there are sensitive owners like the Rowan Family who value such a property and have, throughout their four-year-long renovation, kept the heart and soul of Rudolph alive in their space. Right down to the last mirrored wall pane.

“GOD IS IN THE DETAILS” (AT LEAST IN RUDOPH’S DETAILS)

Spatial power: Paul Rudolph’s analytical drawing of his Tuskegee Chapel.  Image: Paul Rudolph Archive, Library of Congress – Prints and Photographs Division

Spatial power: Paul Rudolph’s analytical drawing of his Tuskegee Chapel.

Image: Paul Rudolph Archive, Library of Congress – Prints and Photographs Division

Mies van der Rohe’s most famous saying is“God is in the details.” Of course, Mies was referring to the profound importance of carefully designed, well-considered, and fully-studied detailing in a building or object. Part of the criteria is not just whether a construction detail handles minimal practical needs (i.e.: “keep out the rain”)—but rather: the immense impact that even the smallest architectural details can have on the experience of a building (or an interior, or a piece of furniture.)

Does Mies’ exhortation about details actually have religious implications? And does it have such implications for Mies’ own architecture (and those practicing in a similar mode)? Those questions have been debated for a long time and are hard to answer, especially since Mies and other Modern architects have been relatively silent, or enigmatic, or maybe just un-committed about their spiritual inclinations.

When it comes to a spiritual interpretation of Mies’ famous saying, our best hypothesis is that Mies and his coterie believed that a superbly designed work-of-architecture (which, of course, would have very fine details) can bring forth experiences of transcendence: something akin to religious states. Well, that’s hardly to be wondered at, as such power is inherent in truly great works of art. Indeed, whether a work-of-art has that transcendence-inducing power (or not) is one of the ways we define its greatness (or lack thereof).Note well—and this is key—that we consider[some] architecture to be works-of-art, and hence open to this sort of assessment. We don’t know much about Paul Rudolph’s religious thoughts or feelings. He was the son of a minister, and Rudolph recounts that seeing his father engage with an architect (on a church that was to be built) was a key influence on his wanting to go into architecture. Some of Rudolph’s most interesting designs are for religious buildings—indeed, church, chapel, and synagogue projects punctuate his career. Here’s a drawing of a lesser-known project by him from 1956, a church for Siesta Key, Florida:

Rudolph’s perspective drawings of a design for the St. Boniface Episcopal Church, a 1956 project for Siesta Key, Florida. Image: Paul Rudolph Archive, Library of Congress – Prints and Photographs Division

Rudolph’s perspective drawings of a design for the St. Boniface Episcopal Church, a 1956 project for Siesta Key, Florida. Image: Paul Rudolph Archive, Library of Congress – Prints and Photographs Division

And Rudolph’s Tuskegee Chapel truly helped anchor his fame:

The interior of Paul Rudolph’s Tuskegee Chapel, at the Tuskegee Institute in Alabama. It was constructed between 1967 and 1969, and is one of his half-dozen most well-known designs. Photo:G. E. Kidder Smith Image Collection, MIT Libraries

The interior of Paul Rudolph’s Tuskegee Chapel, at the Tuskegee Institute in Alabama. It was constructed between 1967 and 1969, and is one of his half-dozen most well-known designs. Photo:G. E. Kidder Smith Image Collection, MIT Libraries

While Rudolph’s half-century career extended until his passing in 1997—and he was prolific to the end—his Cannon Chapel at Emory University, from 1975, was one of the last major non-residential works that he completed in the US:

Paul Rudolph’s Interior perspective-rendering of his  Cannon Chapel , at Emory University. This commission may have been very meaningful to Rudolph: his father, Reverend Keener Rudolph, was in Emory theology school’s first graduating class. Image: This original pen & ink drawing is in the collection of Ernst Wagner, Founder of the Paul Rudolph Heritage Foundation.

Paul Rudolph’s Interior perspective-rendering of his Cannon Chapel, at Emory University. This commission may have been very meaningful to Rudolph: his father, Reverend Keener Rudolph, was in Emory theology school’s first graduating class. Image: This original pen & ink drawing is in the collection of Ernst Wagner, Founder of the Paul Rudolph Heritage Foundation.

Cannon Chapel features a prominent tower-like fin, whose major symbolic motif is a cross. But Rudolph’s approach is different: instead of the cross-as-object (which is typical of almost all church buildings), he renders that cross as cut-out of the fin’s stonework, creating a cross-shaped opening. So that cross, with the sun shining through, is an embodiment of light—a highly spiritual interpretation, in architectural form. Moreover, the light and shadow effect(on the building’s adjacent surfaces) is quite striking:

Part of the exterior of Emory’s Cannon Chapel. Image: Emory University

Part of the exterior of Emory’s Cannon Chapel. Image: Emory University

Even though the building’s primary symbolism is Christian, the building is used by a quite diverse range of the campus’ religious groups. Here’s a passage, describing that, from a 2001 issue of Emory Magazine: an article titled “Cannon Chapel: Twenty Years of Shared Sacred Space.”

Cannon Chapel is the center of religious observances on campus for a variety of denominations and religious groups. About fifteen hundred students attend official worship services each month. “Emory claims grounding in a faith tradition, and religious and spiritual life remains a foundational root of the University,” Henry-Crowe says. “And it is appreciated.” In any given week the chapel’s sanctuary, which seats 480, might be host to an ecumenical worship service, a Roman Catholic mass, an Emory Zen Buddhist group meditation, and a Jewish High Holy Days service. “We have diversity within diversity,” Henry-Crowe says of the thirty religious groups represented on Emory’s Interfaith Council. “The genius of the building is that it is built to be an interfaith space. No symbols are immovable.”

This is not the only case of one building being able to serve various religious groups—indeed, there is a study of how such religious space-sharing can work (and the accommodations that need to be made, to try to have that succeed). Apropos this, for Emory’s Cannon Chapel, it’s that article’s last line which intrigues us: “No symbols are immovable.” What’s that about? It turns out that the reference is quite literal. In the archives of the Paul Rudolph Heritage Foundation, we came across an interesting construction detail [a godly detail?] This is a sheet from the construction drawings of Rudolph’s Cannon Chapel:

Construction detail drawing, from the set of drawings done by Paul Rudolph and his office for the Cannon Chapel at Emory University. This drawing, sheet number D-1, is dated 1981, and the title is: “Portable Cross & Portable Menorah Details.” [And below are some close-up views of portions of this drawing.]  Image: Paul Rudolph Heritage Foundation

Construction detail drawing, from the set of drawings done by Paul Rudolph and his office for the Cannon Chapel at Emory University. This drawing, sheet number D-1, is dated 1981, and the title is: “Portable Cross & Portable Menorah Details.” [And below are some close-up views of portions of this drawing.]

Image: Paul Rudolph Heritage Foundation

As you can see in the details shown above, flexibility was built into Emory’s Cannon Chapel, so that it could be used by various denominations.

While the ability to change key symbolic elements (in a shared sacred structure) is a good idea, it takes serious thinking to determine how that’s to be carried out: it’s not easy to design that kind of flexibility and have it be simultaneously buildable, fit within the budget, and ongoingly practical to use. Here, at Emory, it shows that Rudolph really cared about those details.

Paul Rudolph's design for MoMA’s ‘FAMILY OF MAN’ Exhibition

Paul Rudolph’s plan-perspective drawing for the layout for the Museum of Modern Art’s   Family of Man   photography exhibition, which opened in 1955. Image: Library of Congress

Paul Rudolph’s plan-perspective drawing for the layout for the Museum of Modern Art’s Family of Man photography exhibition, which opened in 1955. Image: Library of Congress

A SPECTACULARLY SUCCESSFUL EXHIBIT

The Family of Man was a photography exhibition held at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City in 1955. Edward Steichen—himself a distinguished photographer, and the curator of the show (and whose widow eventually became a Rudolph client)—had the prodigious task of making the selection from submissions from all over the world. It ended up being a sweepingly large show, with over 500 photographs, from 69 countries, and by 222 photographers.

Edwin Steichen, the Director of the Museum of Modern Art’s Department of Photography, facing the task of selecting & organizing photographs for the exhibit. Photo: MoMA

Edwin Steichen, the Director of the Museum of Modern Art’s Department of Photography, facing the task of selecting & organizing photographs for the exhibit. Photo: MoMA

MoMA concisely describes the exhibit as follows:

This ambitious exhibition, which brought together hundreds of images by photographers working around the world, was a forthright declaration of global solidarity in the decade following World War II. Organized by noted photographer and director of MoMA’s Department of Photography Edward Steichen, the exhibition took the form of a photo essay celebrating the universal aspects of the human experience. Steichen had invited photographers to submit photographs for consideration, explaining that his aim was to capture “the gamut of life from birth to death”—a task for which, he argued, photography was uniquely suited. The exhibition toured the world for eight years, attracting more than 9 million visitors.

The show included photos that have become absolute “classics” in the history of photography, like this famous image of an American migrant worker and her children: Dorothea Lange’s photograph, “Migrant Mother”

Image: Library of Congress

Image: Library of Congress

By-the-way: MoMA’s point, about the exhibit touring the world, makes it more accurate to say that this was a set of exhibitions, for - after its initial showing at MoMA in 1955 (the one designed by Paul Rudolph) - copies or versions of the exhibit were shown all over the globe, in over 3 dozen nations (and sometimes in a several cities within a country). This included exhibits in some iron-curtain countries - which, itself, might be considered quite an achievement right in the heart of the Cold War.

The show has had further life as a book which, well over half-a-century since it came out, seems to have been continuously in-print—an amazing record. [And, not long ago, a special 60th Anniversary Edition was published.]

The meaningfulness of the show’s collection of photos---that particular selection, and the way they were organized—can not only be gauged by the attendance figures to the shows, but also by comments from readers of the book version. Here are two samples from readers (who commented on Amazon):

“I have read this book over and over again … and bought copies for my children and my aged grandfather. Since the MoMA republished it, all my grandchildren are getting a copy as birthday presents. The meaning of each photograph is easily understood by all cultures, and is a timeless portrayal of life from love, birth, living life and eventually, death.”

“In the maddening fast pace time we live in, where we are presented with false dichotomies and "news" that promotes division and futility of purpose this book - this magnificent book - draws the reader into a calmer, slower pace, awe inspiring appreciation for the beauty and wonder of our species. When I first opened its pages I was skeptical - prepared to be disappointed by another commercial knock off that pretends to be one thing and ends with a solicitation to buy into some self serving, blame evoking finger pointing view, on the one hand, or an unrealistic, romanticized characterization of a simple and simplistic view of the good old days. An hour into the book I was completely captured by the poets and artists portrayal of the human family.”

AN INTEREST IN EXHIBIT DESIGN

Rudolph created a number over exhibitions over the decades (including with the Museum of Modern Art, prior to the Family of Man show), and exhibit design seems to have been an ongoing interest of his. The Rudolph-designed duplex apartment, within the Modulightor Building, has a portion of Paul Rudolph’s library—and in it we found a copy of a book he owned on Franco Albini (1905-1977)—the multi-talented Italian architect.

Photo of the book in the Library of the Paul Rudolph Heritage Foundation

Photo of the book in the Library of the Paul Rudolph Heritage Foundation

Albini was a prolific designer of exhibits, as shown in these spreads from the book:

Photo of the book in the Library of the Paul Rudolph Heritage Foundation

Photo of the book in the Library of the Paul Rudolph Heritage Foundation

The book came out (and was acquired by Rudolph) decades after the Family of Man show—so we cannot say this publication influenced Rudolph. We only mention it as evidence of Rudolph’s ongoing interest in the topic of exhibit design.

A SUCCESSFUL EXHIBIT DESIGN

A plan of the  Family of Man  exhibit, with explanatory labels and notes. This version was in an article about the show that appeared in  Popular Photography  magazine.

A plan of the Family of Man exhibit, with explanatory labels and notes. This version was in an article about the show that appeared in Popular Photography magazine.

Rudolph used about all imaginable methods & arrangements to display/mount/show the hundreds of photographs in the show—and sometimes it seems like he wanted to try every possible variation. Yet the show seems to have had coherence, and the multiple display techniques worked well with the photographic materials.

These many techniques included:

  • Large-scale (wall-spanning) enlargements of a single photograph

  • Wall mounting in a pattern of De Stijl-ian grids

  • Suspension from rods (coming from the ceiling)

  • Mounting on rods (coming up from the floor)

  • Mounting over “island”-like, space-defining platforms

  • Suspending within a vignette, created by a cyclorama of fabric, below a glowing circular ceiling

  • Showing them against a transparent background window—so as to provide glimpses through the assemblage of photos, to the next space

  • Suspended in groupings of large panels—and…

  • And thickening the edges of those panels, to give them visual substance

  • Collected together in smaller, more intimate sizes

  • Isolating a single photo, so as to give it dramatic focus

  • Placing a horizontal line of photos along curved convex walls—indeed, having two such matching walls face each-other, so as to create a compressed spatial transition into the next gallery

  • Creating free-standing, curved, island-like display “objects”—with the photos placed at low viewing angles

  • Cantilevering photos—fin-like—off the wall (at 90 degrees to the wall’s main plane

  • Cantilevering photos—fin-like—off vertical poles

  • Placing a giant photo on the ceiling

  • Suspending large photos in visually-strong, contrastingly-dark wood framing elements

There are probably more, but the above list—and the below portfolio of installation images—will give you an idea of the inventiveness that Rudolph brought to this challenge.

A BOOK ABOUT THE EXHIBIT?

We’ve mentioned the well-known Family of Man book which came out of the show (and the new, anniversary edition)—but the exhibit design, per se, certainly deserves its own monograph. Did such a book ever come out?

No and yes. There’s never been, to our knowledge, a book focused on the design of the show. But we did discover that a deluxe edition of the Family of Man book was published: a version which includes an “A special portfolio of photographs by Ezra Stoller” showing the exhibit installation. That section starts off with this page:

Photo of the book in the Library of the Paul Rudolph Heritage Foundation

Photo of the book in the Library of the Paul Rudolph Heritage Foundation

Paul Rudolph’s participation in the exhibit had been fully acknowledged in MoMA’s own 1955 press release for the show—and it is also clearly indicated in the deluxe edition of the book:

Photo of the book in the Library of the Paul Rudolph Heritage Foundation

Photo of the book in the Library of the Paul Rudolph Heritage Foundation

Here’s an example of the installation shots, as shown from a section of the book:

Photo of the book in the Library of the Paul Rudolph Heritage Foundation

Photo of the book in the Library of the Paul Rudolph Heritage Foundation

Good news:  We have a copy of that deluxe edition in the library of the Paul Rudolph Heritage Foundation. But if you would like to have one of those deluxe editions for your own, it seems that copies do show up on the websites of on-line booksellers, like Abebooks and Amazon.