Rudolph and Texas - 1998
This article, an examination of Paul Rudolph’s work in Texas, was published in 1998, not long after Rudolph’s passing. The author is Mark Gunderson, a practicing architect in the Fort Worth area (and a contributing writer to Texas Architect, the magazine in which this article appeared,) is a past president of the Dallas Architectural Foundation, and of the AIA Fort Worth, as well as an historian of Texas architecture. His article illuminates the various circumstances—personal and professional—under which Rudolph received his Texas commissions, as well as analyzing the resulting designs.
We are grateful to the editor of Texas Architect, Mr. Aaron Seward, for permission to reproduce this article. The full 1998 issue, from which this article comes, as well as the complete archive of all issues of the journal, can be accessed at their organization’s website: txamagazine.org
Rudolph and Texas
by Mark Gunderson
Paul Rudolph was an influential practitioner and educator, steeped in the modernist tradition, as well the work of Frank Lloyd Wright. Reassessment his philosophy, after a lessening of interest during the 1970s and 1980s, had already begun when he died last year. His work in Texas left a diverse imprint across the State.
Rudolph was 34 years old in 1952 when he established his own practice in Sarasota, Fla., after a four of partnership Ralph Twitchell. His design work with Twitchell on a series of small guesthouses had been published extensively. His Sensibility with respect to purity in modernist form was already well respected, including the 735-square-foot Healy guest house and the nine-square Walker guest house. The Walker project, with its vertical perimeter window "flaps," was early evidence of Rudolph’s propensity toward forms that could be "converted" to other forms. The obvious, immediate rationale for this was seasonal usage and flexibility of sun control, but the concept had alchemical resonance in his work.
Although the tendency to abstraction endows these early, smaller works with clarity, presence, and a sense of timelessness, it was not a quality that translated well into his larger, later works. Despite his considerable understanding and historical sense of the nature of urbanism, his work at large scales and his exploration of the idea of “mega-structures” (he explained that the Ponte Vecchio was the “purest” example of a megastructure: “The best model I have found is the bridge in Florence”) at times have a heavy-handed, diagrammatic quality.
Rudolph was chair of the School of Architecture at Yale University for seven years before leaving in 1965 to return to full-time practice; while there, he competed the much-discussed Art and Architecture Building, as well as several other projects in or near New Haven, Conn. But in 1966, with the shift towards post-modernism signaled by the publication of Robert Venturi’s Complexity and Contradiction in Architecture, architecture schools began to turn away from Rudolph’s more stringent modernism.
In 1966, when he was 48, Rudolph received his first Texas commission: the Physical Sciences Building at Texas Christian University (TCU) in Fort Worth. This $7.6 million project, initiated by the estate of Sid W. Richardson with help from several other foundations, tripled the available science facilities at TCU and included the remodeling of the adjacent Winton-Scott Hall. The associate architect was Preston M. Geren & Associates, who would also begin work with Louis Kahn on the Kimbell Museum at this same time.
Rudolph’s selection was due at least in part the suggestion of Sid Bass (great-nephew of Sid W. Richardson) who attended Yale in the early sixties and, like many, was influenced by lectures on art and architecture by Vincent Scully, who had championed Rudolph’s work.
The Physical Sciences building is four stories tall with a basement and penthouse (an element in much of Rudolph’s work), and is constructed with the same buff brickwork typical of the TCU campus. The rhyming, staccato façade forms and top floor as cornice are quite similar to those of the Creative Arts Center at Colgate University in Hamilton, N.Y., which Rudolph had just completed. The entire complex is penetrated by a ramped walkway opening to a central court, much like the ramp/passage in his Mary Cooper Jewett Arts Center at Wellesley College.
Rudolph began the Brookhollow Plaza project in Dallas for the Brookhollow Corporation: Harwood K. Smith & Partners were associate architects. The master plan consisted of four structures totaling approximately 700,000 square feet. These ranged from to 9 to 22 stories in height and were organized around three-quarter-acre reflecting pool with more than 80 fountains. Only the first tower of 15 stories, again with penthouse, was constructed in for TXI (owned by Brookhollow) and was later occupied by Mobil Oil. A gas station also designed by Rudolph existed at one time on the site.
The structural system of the Brookhollow Plaza utilizes textured precast concrete columns and perimeter spandrel beams in conjunction with a concrete shear core, which eliminated the need for interior columns. The small floor plate sizes and core-to-exterior dimensions caused the building to resist later occupation. This was exacerbated by the presence of asbestos, and the building has been empty for about a decade. A new owner has work to bring it back to use. It is perhaps an irony in this instance that asbestos—the cause of the cancer that killed Rudolph—may have kept this structure standing by keeping developers at arm’s length through the 1980’s.
In 1970, Sid Bass his wife Anne, both just 28 years old, decided to construct a new residence in the Westover Hills area of Fort Worth. Their respect for Rudolph’s work led them to commission what is arguably his finest residence. The three-story structure—actually 12 levels with 14 different ceiling heights—is sited within rigorous and verdant landscaping composed by Anne Bass, who consulted with Robert Zion and the world-renowned Russell Page The terracing and engagement with the site result in a geological stratification and planarity.
This formal complexity and tectonic, which seems marry both Wright’s Fallingwater and Mies's Farnsworth House, is certainly the most polished of Rudolph’s constructed efforts. The "spatial thrusts" and "pinwheels" that fascinated the architect are rendered in elegant precision. The house includes one 40-foot steel cantilever, among many; the primary materials are white enameled structural-steel sections with white porcelain-enameled aluminum infill panels and clear glazing. Its meticulous interiors reflect the owners’ rarified sensibility and concerns for art and natural light. Rudolph would also design the Fort Worth School of Ballet for Anne Bass, a simple teaching/workspace and offices in a retail strip.
In 1978, Dr. Phillip Periman (also a Yale graduate who attended the lectures of Vincent Scully) sent requests for qualifications to a number of architects, including Rudolph, I. M. Pei, Edward Larabee Barnes, and Philip Johnson, for the design of a new cancer research center in Amarillo. Rudolph received the commission for the Don and Sybil Harrington Cancer Center, with Wilson/Doche as associate architects, and integrated the new structure into the surrounding fabric of medical facilities. The building derives its intrinsic form from the parallelogram plan of individual exam rooms, which Rudolph proposed after intense consideration of the psychological aspects of such spaces on patients. The building is “let” into the site and falls towards the parking and entry level with two arm-like canopies over a pair of entry stairs. The brick and board-formed concrete vocabulary is again, as in the TICU project, contextually derived.
In 1979, when Sid Bass and Bass Brothers Enterprises decided to introduce lease office space into the then-anemic Fort Worth downtown, he had Rudolph (with the 3D/I) design the 32- and 37-story City Center towers on diagonally related blocks, with the Americana (now Worthington) Hotel and a 1,000 car parking structure. The City Center towers are sheathed in a reflective gray glazing and are articulated in a rotational dynamic, which Rudolph would develop in later work in Indonesia into almost “camshaft”-like vertical forms. The towers have incised balconies and chamfered projections at the upper floors, which he referred to as "ears," again seeming to twist the centripetal forms visually. Clustered structural columns are exposed to various heights to visually alleviate the mass of the tower at the street level.
Rudolph was terse in a 1985 Architectural Record interview regarding the relationship of these towers to their historic masonry context: “My intention was to relate to the three-story-high buildings by scale, not by materials, or paint, or ‘motifs.’ You see, people who add on imitation quoins or other historical references are attempting to give their building scale, but they use such low means to accomplish this that I want to get off the boat.” Indicative of this unsentimental, affable, yet matter-of-fact demeanor, these comments reflect the very reasons his popularity waned while more direct quotations of history, like Venturi’s prevailed.
Finally, in Amarillo, Rudolph was commissioned by Stanley Marsh 3 (Cadillac Ranch) to design his offices on the 12th floor of the Bank One building downtown, as well as the Channel 7 television station, which Marsh owns. Both projects were built in the early and mid-1980’s. Rudolph was also commissioned for and designed the Coffee Memorial Blood Center at this same time, but this project was not executed.
Rudolph’s projects in Texas, spanning 20 years, gives evidence of his staggering work ethic, and time will reveal, as always, its significance. In a 1973 he acknowledged “Time is a more important factor in building than the materials used in construction."
Mark Gunderson is an architect practicing in Fort Worth.
Captions for Images used in this Article
Photos on Pages 50-51:
1. Rudolph during a 1978 presentation for the Harrington Cancer Center
2. The parapet at Brookhollow Plaza in Dallas makes evident the precast structural system an alludes to further expansion of the building
3. Glass-sheathed forms of the City Center I tower in Fort Worth
4. A 1974 view from the southwest of the Bass residence in Fort Worth, showing the 40-foot cantilever
5. View of the ramp though the TCU Physical Sciences Building with its central court
6. Brookhollow Plaza tower (from the southwest) shows clearly the diagrammatic nature of much of Rudolph’s work
7. An aerial view of the Harrington Cancer Center in Amarillo with its canopies and stairs around the entry court
Photos on Page 52:
1. Handrail and stair from the Harrington Cancer Center shows Rudolph’s oblique joining of wood, steel, brick, and concrete.
2. View of Bass residence from the northwest
3. The TCU Physical Sciences Building seen from the southeast with its articulated brick façade.