Rudolph Project

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.

Niagara Falls' Rudolph Masterpiece—but are we going to lose it?

Niagara Kidder-smith best view.jpg

The Earl. W. Brydges Library, designed by Paul Rudolph—Niagara Falls’ main library, the city’s center of knowledge! The project commenced in Rudolph’s office in 1969, and this view of a portion of it’s lively roofscape was photographed in the mid-1970’s. Image courtesy of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, photograph by G. E. Kidder Smith

CIVIC STANDING

Among the many types of buildings to which Paul Rudolph applied his creative & practical talents—houses (and housing), churches, schools, university buildings, campus planning, exhibit design, office buildings, medical facilities, and laboratories—there’s also the type about which architects feel proudest: their civic works.“ Part of that pride emerges from the City Beautiful movement—a philosophy and practice, starting in the late 19th Century, which contended that beautifully-designed cities (and well-designed public buildings within them) could bring forth a better society and promote civic virtue. That movement helped energize city (and state and federal) governments to focus more (and spend more) on their streets, buildings, public facilities (and the civil engineering that undergirded those structures.) It’s worth noting that a building type which played a role in such planning were public libraries.

RUDOLPH IN THE PUBLIC REALM

Rudolph made a strong showing in the civic domain, being given commissions for government and public-use buildings in Boston, New Haven, Goshen, NY, Syracuse, Rockford, IL, Buffalo, Siesta Key, FL, Manhattan, and Bridgeport—as well as for international locations, like Jordan and Saudi Arabia. These projects ranged from city halls, to courts, a stadium, and an embassy. [We’ve even seen a 1995 listing, in the tabulation of projects which Rudolph’s office produced for its own use, for a design of an “office for special counsel”.]

PROMINENT ON THE STREETSCAPE

Not all those projects were built (as with the career of most architects, that’s par for the course)—but enough were constructed that we can see that Rudolph’s skills “scaled” well for significant public undertakings. Among those, the main library he did for the city of Niagara Falls—the Earl W. Brydges Public Library— is remarkable. Here, he literally created a “landmark”: a prominent and sizable structure of unforgettable form—an icon within the cityscape.

The library in 2004, as seen down from within the city of Niagara Falls, NY. The tall, glazed, staggered portions of the roof (which bring light into the reading spaces within the building) are prominent parts of the building—and these strong shapes make the library a landmark within the city. Photograph by Kelvin Dickinson, © The Paul Rudolph Heritage Foundation.

The library in 2004, as seen down from within the city of Niagara Falls, NY. The tall, glazed, staggered portions of the roof (which bring light into the reading spaces within the building) are prominent parts of the building—and these strong shapes make the library a landmark within the city. Photograph by Kelvin Dickinson, © The Paul Rudolph Heritage Foundation.

LUMINOUS INTERIORS

Equally memorable are the interiors, filled with light from the clerestory windows above (whose staggered emergence from the roof helps give the building its mountain-strength character). The 3-storey space within is exciting—yet serene enough for reading, research, and study.

“It’s so bright and open without being glaring.”

—Jennifer Potter, the library’s director

Rudolph’s section-perspective of the library, looking down its main axis. A series of tall clerestory windows, rising prominently from the roof, bring in natural light. The building rises in three stages, with each floor getting smaller than the one below—reflecting the library’s functional space needs. Image © The Estate of Paul Rudolph, The Paul Rudolph Heritage Foundation.

Rudolph’s section-perspective of the library, looking down its main axis. A series of tall clerestory windows, rising prominently from the roof, bring in natural light. The building rises in three stages, with each floor getting smaller than the one below—reflecting the library’s functional space needs. Image © The Estate of Paul Rudolph, The Paul Rudolph Heritage Foundation.

“I think my favorite thing about the building is looking up in the main atrium, where the adult collection is. So stunning. It feels strangely modern despite its age.”

—Library Patron

The library’s atrium-interior, as photographed in 1972. This view allows one to see all three levels, as well as the ceiling openings to the clerestory windows (in the angled roof) which bring natural light into the space. Joseph W. Molitor architectural photographs. Located in Columbia University, Avery Architectural & Fine Arts Library, Department of Drawings & Archives

The library’s atrium-interior, as photographed in 1972. This view allows one to see all three levels, as well as the ceiling openings to the clerestory windows (in the angled roof) which bring natural light into the space. Joseph W. Molitor architectural photographs. Located in Columbia University, Avery Architectural & Fine Arts Library, Department of Drawings & Archives

A LANDMARK THREATENED?

The building’s birth had, admittedly, construction problems—ones that caused its architect and builder seeming endless grief. This history is well-told in an article by Mark Byrnes, published by CityLab a few years ago (from which the above quotes.were excerpted.) Ongoing issues continue to concern its users—to the point where the building’s future as the city’s main library is now being threatened.

Is this a case similar to another amazing civic work by Rudolph: his now-disfigured Orange County Government Center? There, a greater recognition of the building’s architectural value and excellence might have—whatever the problems—brought forth the commitment and resources to fix them. We hope that such understanding and support will come forth for the library in Niagara Falls—that it “gets some love”.

INTO THE FUTURE?

The Paul Rudolph Heritage Foundation will be following the fate of Niagara Falls’ Brydges Library (and working to preserve it.) We’ll be bringing you ongoing news of this in the coming months—and if you hear anything about the future of the building, please do let us know!

The entry side of Niagara Falls’Earl. W. Brydges Library, designed by Paul Rudolph. Image courtesy of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, photograph by G. E. Kidder Smith

The entry side of Niagara Falls’Earl. W. Brydges Library, designed by Paul Rudolph. Image courtesy of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, photograph by G. E. Kidder Smith

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.