Art & Architecture
The following essay was written by Tony Monk and appears in his publication The Art and Architecture of Paul Rudolph. The Paul Rudolph Foundation is grateful to Mr. Monk, who studied with Rudolph at Yale University, for permission to reproduce his work on this website.
PAUL RUDOLPH: THE COMMITTED LATE-MODERNIST
Background, Contemporaries and Training
His own background and training had of course a profound influence on his professional development and on the formulation of his natural design talents. He was born in Elkton, Kentucky, in 1918 the son of a southern Methodist minister and obtained a Bachelor of Architecture degree from Alabama Polytechnic Institute, studying there from 1935 to 1940. This degree was however not sufficient for him. Although inherently shy with a persuasive charm, he was always highly motivated with a burning ambition to succeed.
It was significant that he only ever contemplated completing his studies with the great teachers of his time. In the 1940s the choices for an advanced architectural education were either with Walter Gropius at Harvard, Frank Lloyd Wright at Taliesen or Mies Van der Rohe at Chicago. All were eminent practitioners in their own right, who already had distinguished careers and were able to lead by example, Mies had a strong constrained design principle, ‘less (or Mies) is more’ and expected students to emulate his ideas, Wright was the greatest American architect alive producing powerful romantic masterpieces. He operated an apprentice system at Taliesen, east and then west. Students lived at the school and worked at gardening, building and cleaning to subsidize their keep and their education. Wright so dominated his students that Rudolph thought he would not get an education from him but an indoctrination.
Rudolph’s reticence and design talent made him think he would flourish better under Walter Gropius who ‘did not want to produce little Gropiuses’ but said ‘you must talk about principles’. Rudolph had a high regard for his teaching:”He was a truly great teacher, a theorist, an entrepreneur. He was so articulate always focused, very approachable. He was not a good architect but as an educator he was unsurpassed.” (1)
What is a good educator anyway? Rudolph taught in an entirely different way from Gropius. Rudolph was a comparatively quiet teacher but his architecture and drawings made such powerful statements that his students, hungry to learn, were captivated. They were well educated by the visual eloquence of these designs, and could therefore understand the supporting philosophy.
Rudolph arrived at Harvard in the fall of 1941 but after only six months was drafted into the Navy to take part in the Second World War, during which time he saw much of the world and acquired his all-American crew cut. He returned after the end of the war and was seceded again for his talent and application into the master’s class at Harvard. The university was at that time a hotbed of intellectual activity generated by several European refugees who had been at the Bauhaus and felt it necessary to flee potential German oppression. Harvard was therefore the exciting place to be. It had a clear program, Architectural Modernism was the theme led by Walter Gropius as its head. Marcel Breuer, Martin Wagner and IM Pei were all helping to forge a new design culture attempting to ‘solve today’s problems with today’s solutions’. These devotees brought to America a new zeal and rejuvenated the original Bauhaus principles. This philosophy was translated into a desire to create a fusion between industry and architecture by using modern materials and structures, The new Modernism still sought the ultimate design objective of combining high-quality craftsmanship with the engineering techniques of mass production.
This was the new order. It was the atmosphere in which the young and talented Paul Rudolph received his architectural education, along with such contemporaries as Ed Barnes, Bob Geddes, Ulrich Franzen, Harry Seidler, Harry Cobb and John Johansen. It is interesting that many of these professional architects appeared subsequently to give valuable lectures or criticisms as visiting tutors to the students on Rudolph’s own graduate program at Yale in the early 1960s when they, in their turn, had achieved personal notoriety.
The historian Philip Johnson was also an influential thinker who participated in the activities at Harvard architecture school as a contemporary of Paul Rudolph. Already a director of architecture at the Museum of Modern Art in New York., Johnson had organized an important exhibition identifying the International Style in the Modern Movement as early as 1932. He was taking a masters degree as a mature student and had built for himself in Cambridge, Massachusetts, a simple house with a fat roof and columns around a courtyard close to the graduate school which became the center of social and intellectual activities.
As Rudolph was accepted as one of Harvard’s insiders, he became one of an elite group who developed this new Modernist thinking centered around Gropius’ teaching of the democratic design process. After graduating in 1947, Rudolph went to Europe in 1949 where he was asked to edit an important edition of L’Architecture d’aujourdhui, in February 1950, called ‘Walter Gropius et son ecole’. Describing the rise of Modernism in America as an expression of the spirit of a new civilization, it contained many modern projects including Gropius’ house, Breuer’s Graduate Center at Harvard and houses built by Gropius’ practice, The Architects Collaborative, which still operates today under the title TAC. It included work by Pei, Cobb, Dreyfus and Barnes as well as the Cocoon House in Sarasota which Rudolph had built in 1948 with Ralph Twitchell. Chester Hagel also described in this edition his own interpretation of Gropius’ all-embracing principles on which Rudolph was nurtured, ‘. . . that mechanization and individual freedoms are not incompatible, the possibilities and values of communal action, and the integration of the work and thinking of technicians and creative work of artists in a new type of technical artist – the designer.’ (2)
Only eight years after graduating from Harvard in 1949 but with the practical experience of completing several elegant houses in Florida, the Arts Center at Wellesley and Riverview High School, Sarasota, Yale University was imaginative and sufficiently impressed by Paul Rudolph to appoint him Head of Architecture in 1957. He was then 39 years old. Philip Johnson was on the selection panel. The next busy decade, when Paul Rudolph combined both practice and teaching, proved to be the apex of his career.
PHILOSOPHY, IDEAS AND STYLE
Paul Rudolph was not a complex intellectual. He preferred to let his drawings and buildings speak for themselves. To him the visual satisfaction of a design was far more important than a self-justifying intellectual debate. During a period when architectural theorists were developing their own complicated language, Rudolph described his design priorities in a refreshingly simple manner. He was easy to understand and was always trying to improve the quality and indeed beauty of architecture. He wrote very little considering he was an architectural teacher but instead his production of drawings and building was prodigious. Leaving other’s to analyze his buildings, he seemed totally consumed by a burning desire to produce major works of architecture.
In one of Rudolph’s few articles, ‘Enigmas of Architecture’, written in 1977, he said ‘Architecture is used space formed for psychological and symbolical reasons. Architectural space overrides all its integrating elements and concepts by consciously forming enclosed voids to accommodate human beings in the totality of their psychic and physical life and in their various pursuits and intentions.’ (3)
His design ideas had matured by then. They had developed from his original formal and structural concepts elegantly expressed in his Florida houses, which were based on the Miesian principles of simplicity that ‘less is more’. He had been nurtured on minimalist Bauhaus design at Harvard University, where Walter Gropius had taught him the ideas of the International Style. These early residences followed a strict adherence to function, clarity of form and the articulation of individual components of the buildings.
For all the functional honesty and structural integrity expressed by his Florida houses, Rudolph was still not satisfied with their quality. On reflection he considered that they lacked sufficient psychological control of light and space. He started, therefore, to question the fundamentals of the International Style and re-examined these rigid principles: ‘And the experience of space was found wanting.’ (4) He probably felt that these ideas were too constricting for his design talent and too inhibiting for his graphic presentation techniques. He considered that there were lessons to be learnt from historical buildings, which often controlled light and space with solids and voids in a more interesting manner and were able to create a more dynamic atmosphere than most modern buildings. From studying historical examples and the work of modem masters he concluded that for him a central guiding principle should be the creation of human-scale space. It was indeed the spatial aspect of the work of Frank Lloyd Wright and the sculptural quality of Le Corbusier’s projects that he found meaningful and particularly appealing.
Rudolph explained that his goal in architecture was by now: ‘to wed the programmatic and spatial concepts of the International Style to Wright’s more suitable handling of interior volumes of space.’ (5)
This preoccupation with forming space, both internally and externally, was henceforth to be a lasting theme in Rudolph’s work. He had the opportunity to develop these ideas in his major public building, which he carried out to great effect. His Milam Residence in Jacksonville, Florida was a new departure, in that it was the first residence in which he introduced a central space as its heart and an independent sunscreen detached from the structure. To explain the importance space now held in his designs, he enthusiastically exaggerated the laws of nature: ‘The movement of space has velocity, for space flows much in the manner of water from one volume to another. Especially important are the ”connections” between one spatial volume to another.’ (6)
He was of course emphasizing that these architectural spaces should be visually interlinked so they did not appear to leak out at the corners, something to which he often referred to in his teaching. The contrasting effect of a narrow corridor or pathway, which then dramatically opens up into a courtyard or an atrium, created a theatrical effect by controlling the movement through such spaces in a time-honored manner which had often been used to good effect in interior design. He also applied these same spatial principles to urban design and felt that buildings around a public square should be carefully positioned so that the corners of the space should not leak visually, but were contained – unless, of course, there was a meaningful purpose for doing otherwise, such as if the space led to an exit or a view or a feature or a focal building.
Rudolph was concerned to establish the appropriate relationship between the height of the buildings around courtyards and the appropriate width of the open space. Based on historical precedent, he considered a 1:3 ratio was usually comfortable. His reference points for these principles were often Classical and related to European examples.
The formation of exterior spaces was considered by Rudolph to be almost a lost art, and the ability to create an environment appropriate to its activities to be seldom well achieved in modern architecture and urban design. He believed that: ‘These exterior ”rooms” should have varying characteristics: solemn, awesome, refined, quiet, hectic, dynamic, good-time . . .’ (7)and of course the atmosphere in these areas was dependent on the activities of the occupants and their uses. The designed environment needed color, texture and materials as well as the architectural features appropriate to enhance these functions. Rudolph applied the same criteria to the design of both exterior and interior space. Internally he was able to control the height of the volume better by varying the ceiling level and to allow the larger and smaller spaces to interrelate as major and minor areas. He pointed out that internal and external space can draw inwards as well as upwards and that the design of architectural space is unique because it consciously moulds the environment not only to accommodate humans, but also to create an atmosphere that activates the imagination. He said many times that he considered architecture to be used space formed to satisfy people’s psychological needs.
At the time of writing his ‘Enigmas of Architecture’, Rudolph was still overwhelmingly preoccupied with the importance of space in the design of his buildings, The Art and Architecture Building at Yale which he had completed over a decade before had space as the heart and body of the design. It was centered around two large volumes with thirty-six different levels of interlocking studio and other spaces. The building was an all-embracing spatial concept. Even the modest entrance was purposely designed to be up a long narrow flight of steps to give an enhanced emphasis to the grand spaces inside. The all-pervasive idea of space-making was so powerful in this building it was jokingly suggested by Joseph Esherick that you could not go to the men’s room without having a spatial experience!
In order to communicate and study the visual impact and proportions of these buildings, containing large spaces and volumes, Rudolph even extended his masterly techniques of graphical presentation that enabled him also to study and design the shapes and characteristics of these important internal spaces. He produced his now unique and famous single-point perspectives, which were built up from accurate sections through key parts of the building. By illustrating in minute detail an exact replica of the interior as it would be seen if the building were sawn in half in a similar way to a doll’s house or model, and by showing furniture, rooms, stairs, ceiling, air-conditioning and inhabitants he was able to portray with brilliant graphical dexterity the spatial proportions of these interior volumes. He included the texture of materials and particularly sunlight and shadows so creating a two-dimensional drawing that showed these three-dimensional spaces and allowed him to anticipate the likely atmosphere within them. These outstanding drawings display a meticulous eye for detail unparalleled by any other modern architect; they were powerfully motivated by Rudolph’s desire to understand how it would feel to be in these spaces before they were built. He always said that the section was the generator of the space because by looking at it he was able actively to study the three-dimensional impact of the building. He also extended this technique to illustrate plans dramatically with a gravity defying single-point perspective looking down to the ground and lifted site plans and isometrics to recreate the third dimension through an indication of height achieved by projecting accurate shadows from the realistic height of the buildings.
All these presentational techniques were developed to give a correct representation of the real spaces in and around his architecture, something that was centrally important to him: ‘We talk about style until it comes out of our ears but to me the dynamics of good-time space are far more important. It is the space inside and that created outside by a group of buildings which is important. I regard the manipulation of scale, the understanding of spaces, the exercise of proportion, the relationship of one material to another and the clarity of expression as all far more important than style.’ (8)
Style seems never to have been a problem for Paul Rudolph who was an individualistic designer driven by his graphical talents to produce drawings which are an art form in themselves, similar to artists in the Beaux Arts tradition who produced design drawings as an artistic accomplishment in addition to the purpose of creating a building. Rudolph has been categorized by historians as a Late Modernist because he refined his Harvard training under Walter Gropius. He was initially influenced by Le Corbusier’s sculptural approach to architecture as indeed was Richard Meyer, who shares some similar design ideals. Rudolph’s visual eye for good proportions and high-quality detailing considered that Le Corbusier’s building could be more refined and did not always sit well on the site. He was more impressed by Frank Lloyd Wright whom he considered handled the important interior space, use of materials and transition between the building and the ground so much better.
Rudolph was an independent-minded Modernist convinced of his design priorities; an architect who throughout his career saw no reason to revise his fundamental philosophy but did pragmatically broaden his ideas to respond to the realities and opportunities created by his major commissions. He considered that the rules governing small buildings were inherently different from those governing large.
He recognized the importance of two design ingredients he found in architecture and which he grew to revere. These were the internal control of light and space in a memorable manner and the external influence of the surrounding context on a design. Both these aspects were, he appreciated, derived from historic links and were in essence the art of architecture which had developed through the ages, but he also found these features in fine modem buildings as well. In addition to evolving spatial features in his projects, he also developed a better understanding of contextualism. This he preferred to call urbanism, because his major projects were usually in large urban areas and not isolated, unlike many of his earlier houses in Florida. These schemes needed to be related to their surroundings. It was not sufficient, therefore, only to reflect the solids and voids, to express the structural system and articulate the functional activities. Unifying the interior of these buildings with major and minor interactive spaces and adapting the exterior character of the building to fit in with its surroundings were both refinements on Rudolph’s original functional training in the International Style. From then on he recognized the need when designing these large projects to respond to the existing urban environment, to understand the contribution his buildings played in the enhancement of the wider public realm and to establish the hierarchies in civic design. It was necessary to fit in with the historical character of the surrounding and adjacent buildings. He acknowledged that a building is not an ‘island’, and that however self-important a new project is, it still plays its part in the architectural drama of the townscape. Although his buildings were always designed from the inside function, from now on they were also molded by their surroundings.
His first large commission which developed this contextual theme was the Mary Cooper Jewett Arts Center for Wellesley College, Massachusetts, a commission that coincided with Rudolph’s appointment as Dean of Architecture at Yale University. The project required him to design a modern building in character with the neo-Gothic campus and tower and was a scheme that needed to relate to these predetermined historic surroundings. His design solution was neither a pastiche nor a replica, but created instead a modern design using the height, scale and proportions of the structure and particularly the rhythm of the sunscreens and roof lights to echo the neo-Gothic features of the existing college.
This project was an important advance in Rudolph’s work because it acknowledged the role that this new building played in the composition of the campus. It had to be a background building that completed a wing of the open courtyard and helped to enhance the focal element in the complex. The focus of attraction was not the new center itself but obviously remained the tall neo-Gothic tower which had historically been the centerpiece of the college. The contextual features of this new background building were architecturally deferential and supported the unifying importance of this central element in the campus.
After the experience of this project Rudolph introduced several other contextual ideas into his work. He was very interested in scale and proportion in architecture. Was a scheme in scale or not with its neighboring buildings? Human scale (in pedestrian areas), inhuman scale (on motorways or in tall buildings), change in scale (between two sides of a building), vertical (alert) or horizontal (relaxed) scale and the different atmosphere created by these circumstances were all to him interesting questions of scale. Even his acceptance of the need to include ornamentation, sculpture and textured materials in modern architecture seemed to stem from the need to humanize the building with identifiable details to produce a scale to which people could relate. Buildings are for people, he would say.
His elevation of the entire length of Chapel Street in New Haven, which was drawn in scale, to show the Art and Architecture Building at Yale University, demonstrated the important contextual role the surrounding buildings and this corner site played in the urban fabric of the town. The drawing helped him design a streetscape building that turned the corner, and it influenced some of the vertical tower features of the building in contrast to the horizontal lines of Louis Kahn’s adjacent art gallery. This concern to fit in sculpturally with the surrounding features, buildings and context became an enduring feature of Rudolph’s work. He endorsed the need for architecture to blend in with its surroundings, to augment or follow what had preceded it. It was necessary to be in-scale with the neighboring buildings, or at the very least, the lower floors of a high building should relate to the urban context. These were sound practical reasons for refining and developing his basic design philosophy as a Modernist.
Rudolph accepted that each building should fit in with the existing urban pattern, and that before starting to design it was important to understand the civic contribution a site made to the established city environment. He considered that a town was an evolving and mixed collection of buildings each with its own function and purpose, linked by pedestrian and vehicular routes that had already created their own meaningful spaces and human experiences, and he believed that these could not be significantly altered. An understanding, therefore, of the existing hierarchies, already predetermined by the existing buildings, by the character and scale of the varying public spaces and by the role each site and building played within the townscape, were to him the essence of civic design: ‘All these complementary activities make up the whole city, which is therefore greater than simply the sum of its parts.’ (9)
Here was an important extension of his design ideas, that the character of a modern building should take its neighborhood into consideration; it should be sympathetic to or purposely contrast with its surroundings. It should not ignore its environment. Clearly it is possible to achieve harmony with its adjacent buildings, even those of a different style, if there is a similarity of scale, proportion, materials and particularly of heights and aesthetic characteristics.
These were the contextual principles which Rudolph adopted in his design for the Mary Cooper Jewett Arts Center at Wellesley College. A building that soared above its neighbors for no good architectural reason would of course dominate them and could destroy the continuity of the campus or, in another context, damage the established character of the streetscape. There is therefore little aesthetic advantage in disrupting these important urban relationships unless it is to give emphasis to a focal building. The unity of a project set properly in its context was recognized as being an important design factor in these major projects.
Paul Rudolph achieved a sense of unity in his work by several important design means. A major, all-pervasive design idea invariably permeated the buildings in his schemes. In addition, he usually developed a design system that was the visual language exclusive to each scheme, in which he used as few materials as possible.
Sometimes the main concept or grand idea around which the scheme was designed was a central internal space to which all other spaces related; in other solutions a courtyard, a footpath or throughway was the guiding principle; sometimes a tower or a cluster of interrelated buildings provided the overriding concept. More modest ideas were support players to the main theme. Rudolph was amused when approached by a large corporate client who wanted to create an impressive image for the company and who said his sole requirement was for Rudolph to produce a masterpiece! With such an objective in mind the design response was often to produce a heroic interpretation of modern architecture on a grand scale, of which the Burroughs Wellcome Headquarters, North Carolina, was an impressive example.
It was important that this main concept was lucid and clearly expressed in the architecture of the project. The Guggenheim Museum in New York by Frank Lloyd Wright was cited as a good illustration of this principle, grand but simple in conception with its spiral ramp around the large central space.
The unity of a scheme was also achieved by using a repetitive system designed exclusively for each project. This system consisted of repetitive shapes, constantly using the same structural details or external fenestration and the persistent employment of similar elements throughout the scheme with identical components. These features were then repeated, rather like the similar traits and physical characteristics which are visible in different members of one family and unify that family in the eyes of others. There were subtle variations on these themes, but this visual system was created as the language of the design. It was not, however, a new idea. Le Corbusier in L’Esprit Nouveau said, ‘An aesthetic and a work of art are above all systems. An attitude is not a system. Genius is personal, decided by fate – but it expresses itself by means of system, there is no work of art without system.’ (10)
Rudolph considered it was the visual system, the aesthetic, which unified and expressed a work of architecture and enabled the building to be greater than the sum of its parts. The selection and design of this repetitive system can blend in with the surroundings, if it is also in scale and character with the language of the neighboring buildings.
The unity of a design can be enhanced by working with one basic material. For Rudolph this often meant the use of in-situ concrete with various textured finishes. Elsewhere he used tiles, block or brickwork. He drew the analogy of Henry Moore sculptures being carved from a single stone material and so achieving a unity of design, and he noted that most works of architectural distinction, modern or historic, used a palette of only one material (and glass). He deduced, therefore, that it was important to use as few materials as possible in order to achieve a high- quality design. It seemed that a reasonable rule of aesthetics was that the standard of architecture decreases in direct proportion to the number of materials used.
In developing and refining his design priorities to accommodate his large commissions, Rudolph was not pandering to any new fashionable trend or fickle change in style; he was still convinced by his early convictions, but it was the acceptance of these later adjustments in his design philosophy that classified him as a Late-Modernist.
Nor was he persuaded to adopt any postmodernist theories, which he found superficial. He could not accept the modern-day trend of applying an element here or a column cap there and distorting symbolic forms of Classical architecture. To him those authentic proportions and original construction techniques had been developed in full for another era and were not transferable. Each generation developed its own architecture with its own contemporary technology. As a committed Modernist he of course believed the integrity of the building and its structure was generated from its internal function and space. He could not countenance the relevance of applying a superficial style to the exterior of a building, which was not derived from the internal and external spaces or functions: ‘To ignore what is intrinsic to the buildings by putting extraneous elements over the exterior is so anti-architecture that I can see no justification for it at all. It leads to world-fairism. Cities like Tokyo are turning into Disneyland.’ (11)
He obviously considered style to be superficial; fashionable to some degree, and often the clothing which reflected the personality and convictions of the designer. To illustrate this point graphically, Rudolph once entertained a graduate class by designing an identical building and enclosing it in the mantle of different styles, as it would have developed in the hands of several famous architects. Using his endless roll of yellow detail paper like some Greek scroll, he first drew a rectangular fat-roofed house with elegant Miesian details, then a sculptured courtyard with Le Corbusier cones and spheres, followed by a Wright residence growing naturally out of a hillside, and then an articulated Kahn castle, and concluded with an organized spatial house which he designed on many levels, which he claimed was superior to the others and his preference. The students knowingly noted that Rudolph had confidently placed himself alongside the elite of modern architecture, but by using this example he had skillfully illustrated the important point that style was only skin deep and a building can be designed in many different ways depending on the priorities and prejudices of the designer.
At about this time, in 1965, Rudolph told the Yale administration that he would like to leave the university as he would prefer to devote himself entirely to designing buildings and developing his practice. He had come to the conclusion that he could ‘not tolerate being two different people’. Architecture was, of course, his passion.
‘To be a teacher or head of a school is totally different from being an architect which is a highly personal affair involving a considerable degree of emotion and which needs a great strength of personal conviction, assuredness and passion. To be a critic, a teacher or to determine the course of a school is the exact opposite, you must be totally objective and try to understand what the student is after and to put that in context that is helpful to him and that means clarifying what other people have done throughout history as well as today and not really let one’s own prejudices interfere at all. So one has to be two different people if one wants to practice architecture and teach.'(12)
Continuing, Rudolph expressed his respect for Walter Gropius as his gifted teacher whom he considered had inherent qualities that made him a natural academic, but from this analysis he underscored, later repeated and always demonstrated in his work that he disagreed with Gropius over the mechanism of the design process. Rudolph believed that designing was a personal and prejudiced creative act that could not be achieved by the goal of objective team work at that time central to Gropius’ ethos.
Although Rudolph had decided that he would not make a life- time career in education, the period at Yale University had been very effective in consolidating his reputation. It had crystallized his design ideas and had helped him acquire an impressive portfolio of commissions. While carrying out his educational responsibilities he was still steadily building up his architectural practice. However, he obviously found this dual role exhausting, as each demanded a full-time commitment. He often worked in his office well into the night. Nevertheless the time he spent with the students was doubly beneficial to them because his authoritative teaching was based not only on the current application of his design philosophy to the major projects he was then implementing, but also included his work with leading consultants eminent in their own field. It was an exciting and refreshingly new experience for most of the students to be taught by a young and yet already revered practitioner who led the architectural school by example and who demonstrated through his own imaginative projects many new images and visually new design ideas. He had invited around him a group of controversial tutors who often expressed different architectural opinions to his own. Robert Venturi, for one, was then quietly writing his own book, which was to have a considerable influence on American architectural thinking. Complexity and Contradiction in Architecture was produced by Venturi while he was engaged in teaching the architectural master’s class in 1963 as the studio tutor. Vincent Scully, Philip Johnson and Serge Chermayeff were all involved in the philosophical debate at the university during that changing period in architectural design. The architectural criticisms of the student projects were particularly interesting as they were often enlivened by healthy debate among the examining jurors, who were themselves keen to assert their respective positions. Serge Chermayeff would often intellectualize his point with passionate White Russian conviction on the changing social order. Paul Rudolph, by contrast, would usually concentrate calmly on using his eyes and imagination to visualize his theories on what those physical changes would look like. The impressive differences, of course, seldom harmonized because each was concentrating on their own personal convictions, which were on a different architectural plane.
There was no established theory expounded, other than a liberal education that encouraged a healthy examination of the relevant current issues. Perhaps it was because of this climate of inquiry that so many of the graduates who had been selected to join Rudolph’s master’s program from different cultures around the world, and who brought their own convictions and qualities to the course, have subsequently made significant contributions to modern architecture in their own ensuing careers.
PRACTICE, GROWTH AND COMMERCIALISM
Having consolidated his design ideals and established his international reputation as a Late-Modernist architect, Rudolph then spent the next decade in practice busily implementing numerous important projects. Major commissions came in thick and fast. There was little time or need to review his refined ideas or re-examine the appropriate selection of materials. An impressive list of schemes for large corporate clients and authorities gave him the opportunity to apply the design philosophies which he had developed over the years by designing and then constructing these significant buildings.
These important corporate projects included the Endo Laboratories, the research facilities for IBM, the huge Boston Government Service Center, the Orange County Court Center, the Southeastern Massachusetts Institute of Technology and especially the futuristic Burroughs Wellcome Headquarters as well as high-density apartments at Tracey Towers and the new departure to design the Daiei offices in Nagoya, Japan. All reflected Rudolph’s distinctive and sculptural use of in-situ and precast concrete and, where appropriate, his preference for elegantly proportioned public spaces and repetitive components representing the varying design systems developed aesthetically for each building.
He was also commissioned by the Ford Foundation to produce exploratory proposals to investigate the potential for building a megatropolis with structures over the Lower Manhattan Expressway, having previously prepared similar-sized sketch schemes for the Graphic Arts Center. These were both grandiose concepts for high-rise high density ‘cities in the sky’. Further there was also a steady flow of clients requiring large houses to be designed personally for them. The Green Residence, Bass house and earlier Milam Residence all showed Rudolph’s confident handling of flowing interior spaces and graceful lines, which had matured his work sufficiently for him to be recognized as a natural successor to Frank Lloyd Wright in terms of housing design.
However, within his commercial success and the impressive portfolio of commissions were the seeds of his inherent weakness and ultimate professional demise. All these corporate schemes, including the high-rise apartments at Tracey Towers and the earlier Crawford Manor Housing, were designed and constructed using various forms of concrete, usually in-situ, sometimes precast or blocks. Rudolph, during this period in busy practice used concrete almost automatically for all his major projects, and became universally linked with concrete as it was the material material and gave infinite flexibility to create the dynamic sculptural forms, which were easily translated from Rudolph’s immaculate graphic presentations. When technical problems started to appear in his buildings and they started to suffer from concrete decay and water penetration, as occurred in so much other flat-roofed modern architecture built in concrete around the world, his direct association with this material became prejudicial to his reputation. The aesthetic character of this material was inherently cold and usually inhuman, even if it was disguised by the use of textured finishes and vibrant colors, which Rudolph often so cleverly employed. The use of natural concrete was of course unfriendly in housing and particularly in the high-density apartments, which especially needed to convey and accommodate social understanding and human characteristics. The elegant sculptural features of these residential towers could not address the public aversion to exposed concrete or the technical difficulties associated with its use. These factors all contributed to his demise and his work became unfashionable, over-taken by a wave of Postmodernism especially in America.
DECLINE AND REJUVENATION
The number of Paul Rudolph’s major commissions in America diminished rapidly during the 1970s, and his outstanding reputation suddenly declined. After a decade of prolific activity producing numerous and outstandingly important projects for eminent clients and of being one of America’s brightest young architects, it was difficult to understand why such a dramatic deterioration should have taken place. Rudolph himself jested that he was at one stage an up-and-coming architect with great potential and then quickly found himself as a supposed has-been who was out of fashion, and that he never therefore enjoyed the pleasure of actually having arrived.
There were probably three main reasons for Rudolph’s fall from favor. There was a sea change in the 1970s which saw the focus of architectural design switch to a new trend of Postmodernism which was radically different from Rudolph’s minimalist philosophy. This movement produced a whole new breed of designers who applied classical principles, ornamentation and symbolism to their projects. This was fundamentally abhorrent to Rudolph whose design instincts prevented him from accepting such a superficial approach to architecture and who therefore ignored and rejected this new style of design.
At the same time there was a universal and adverse reaction to the use of natural concrete as a finish to buildings both externally and internally. Not only was it an expensive surface to construct correctly without unsightly blemishes but it was also considered to be impersonal and unfriendly as an internal surface treatment. It quickly became drab and aesthetically unattractive. Even though Rudolph went to he would naturally prefer to use. This application was intellectually justified because it was a modern considerable lengths to develop specially textured finishes to deal with weathering and to cast interesting details in it, it was still considered to be too stridently robust even for public buildings and therefore quite unsuitable for use in housing schemes. Rudolph was of course identified as a leading exponent in the use of this type of material. The alienation of concrete was therefore an implicit rejection of Rudolph. The dramatic fire in the Art and Architecture Building at Yale in 1969 was never linked to arson; the fire officer’s report denies that to have been the cause. Nevertheless rumors persist that it might have been the ultimate act of criticism by architectural students. Folklore continues and the impressive building was damned by association.
The third serious difficulty that Rudolph encountered was the inherent technical problems associated with the use of concrete and flat roofs, of water penetration, of concrete decay, of cold bridging and heat loss through the external skin. The whole building industry has experienced these construction difficulties as a result of using concrete, but again Rudolph was known for designing his projects exclusively in this material. High-rise, heavy- density housing were dogged by these technical defects, and so Rudolph’s residential tower blocks were particularly vulnerable to such problems. Crawford Manor in New Haven is now almost entirely coated with black bitumen in a drastic attempt to alleviate the problems of water penetration through the fabric of the apartment buildings.
This accumulation of difficulties and criticisms irreparably damaged Rudolph’s reputation and his morale and left him isolated from the mainstream of American designers; it took over a decade before the quality of his projects and consistent Late-Modernist work was properly recognized. During this period of estrangement he did flirt with glass curtain-wall design and produced two twin towers, first at Fort Worth, Texas and then in the Bond Centre, Hong Kong. In both of these schemes he lacked his normal design confidence and had difficulty in reconciling his strongly asserted convictions. He was unable to express his spatial ideals or his contextual principles, but most notable was the absence of the normal sculptural qualities found in his facades. surprisingly, found that his design work was still in demand. Several contractor developers commissioned him to apply his design and graphic talents as concept designer and it was in this capacity that he worked on a series of major projects in Hong Kong, Singapore and Indonesia. It is probably fitting therefore that one of these last projects, in which he designed the headquarters for Wisma Dharmala Sakti in Jakarta, should be the culmination of his distinguished career. It embodies impressively most of his best Late-Modernist theories and resolves the criticisms previously expressed about some of his work.
WISMA DHARMALA SAKTI, JAKARTA
The Dharmala office building rises twenty-six stories out of the pitched roofs of Jakarta, in a modern design which reflects the historic parts of the city where it is located. Its relationship with the existing bustle of small-scale buildings at the ground level is achieved by a multi-layered skirt of public rooms around an entrance courtyard. Rudolph planned this open atrium and its surrounds to be, ‘like a village, with all the ease of access and variety that villages always possess’. (13) The context and sense of place so important to Rudolph in his architecture has been achieved with the interaction of these spaces at these lower levels where the occupants walk into the building.
The Indonesian climate is hot and humid, and shade and breezes are welcome. So in this context, Rudolph has produced an architectural design system for this building which reflects the beautiful traditional roofs in this area, incorporating deep overhanging eaves and cantilevered spandrels with 45 degree slopes that shield all floors from direct sunlight.
The tower is heavily sculptured and twists and turns every three floors as it ascends to the top, a changing geometry that allows the faceted glass windows to form balconies and shrubbery boxes with these sloping spandrels. The visual balance between the vertical twin columns and the horizontal spandrels creates a richly sculptured tower which could have been built even higher, as it was originally designed. Frank Lloyd Wright also twisted various floor plans in his tower designs in the Johnson Building at Racine and elsewhere. Rudolph preferred to double up his columns in many of his designs since, set in pairs, they gave greater visual strength and direction than a static single column. At Dharmala, these twin columns are cross-braced at their base in a manner somewhat similar to the diagonal bracing on Norman Foster’s famous Hong Kong Shanghai Bank. At ground level, the entrance area with its many open levels and balcony walkway not only creates a sense of spaciousness appropriate to this headquarters building, but the stepped back offices surrounding the atrium create a cool, breeze-filled shaded open space It was however in the Far East that Rudolph, perhaps interlaced with balconies and walkways. The effect illustrates Rudolph’s ability to create well- proportioned human space inside the building contained by the office tower above whose dual columns thrust upwards through this entrance.
The space of the courtyard increases at each level like an inverted cone which allows natural light to stream in reflecting off the white tiled finishes. The use of these white tiles throughout the project – on columns, walls, spandrels and balconies – protects the concrete from mold growth in the humid climate and is a solution often used in the country. It also creates a feeling of cool, pristine white elegance and the small tiles give a friendly scale and texture to this otherwise large building. The multi-leveled terraces and vine-filled balconies, the waterfalls and water channels all with sloping spandrels help to unify and create the human scale characteristics of this elegant Late-Modern headquarters. It is a well-conceived design handled with the mastery of experience, exemplifying how a Late-Modern building fits in with its surroundings by means of a design language derived for its context, it creates human scale internal spaces, is impeccably detailed and uses sound technology and good materials. It is, of course, also generated from sound functional and structural requirements. In all the Dharmala building is a convincing testament to Rudolph’s life-time work and a confident reaffirmation of the design principles which he evolved and always held so dear.
The architectural drawing techniques developed by Paul Rudolph are unique, vibrant in their manual execution and a trademark for which he is now justly famous. They concentrate on the sequence of producing presentation drawings; from conception to sketch to final design with drawings that encompass plans, elevations and, particularly, sections that bring a quality of three-dimensional representation to the design process. His single-point perspectives imposed on an accurately drawn section are an immaculate way of portraying the internal space and character of a building at these formative stages. By illustrating the scheme realistically with as much detail, texture and shadows as possible, his techniques attempt to bring the building prematurely to life, to assist both the designer and the client to visualize the building while it is still only a drawing. Rudolph describes these intricate graphical illustrations in the introduction to the book which features only the presentational drawings of his designs, Paul Rudolph, Architectural Drawings.
Rudolph explains the complex interaction between sketches, renderings and the design process: ‘Buildings which have been designed but were never built still exist for me, if for no one else’. (14) Sketches, he said, were the most direct line between the architect’s imagination and the tangible. Renderings are prepared when the ideas have become crystallized and because the clients’ insatiable desire to ‘see what the building looks like’ must be met. He was alive, however, to the limitations of these illustrations, pointing out that they only show the building from one view and at one point in time. Design drawings have a life of their own, he said. In explaining his presentation techniques in this manner Rudolph displays a Beaux Arts approach to the process, where the design drawing was considered to be an end in itself where the two-dimensional work of art became detached from the three- dimensional architecture for which it was created. However, its artistry was a potential danger for Rudolph, too, and for any other talented presentation artist. The sheer quality of the presentation could seduce the creator into believing that the final building would be equally sensitive and captivating. This may, for instance, have sadly held true in cases where he applied his graphical dexterity to illustrate concrete and other tactile textures, when the material in practice could not be used with the same elegance and human feeling which went into the drawing.
Rudolph’s presentation techniques were incredibly detailed, notable for their precision and accuracy, and reminiscent in some respects of Victorian etchings. Every element in the building was illustrated, including furniture, landscaping and people, everything which was to be designed and part of the composition was depicted to allow the viewer to visualize the total effect of the newly designed environment. The texture, materials and finishes were also graphically represented, sometimes stylized, but included to give as realistic a feeling of the grain or the nature of the finishes as possible as these were, of course, very important to the characteristics of the building.
The technique of rendering appropriate to illustrate Rudolph’s designs also helped in his choice of material for the building. It was interesting that he drew the vertical grooved concrete finish on his 1970s buildings and explained that it looked right on the drawings. He used concrete and explored its different finishes, precast and in-situ with different exposed aggregate and shutter-board textures because he felt that it was a modern material and its plasticity gave him infinite flexibility in his dynamic designs. He said that he considered brick an alien material in the twentieth century (in spite of Wright’s extensive use of brick in most of his famous projects), and then had the honesty to admit that this might be because he found it difficult to draw.
Central to Rudolph’s philosophy as it matured was the design of spatial arrangements with the natural light controlled by the solid enclosures and the open voids and glazing between them. Because of these design preferences it was important that he developed a presentation technique to enable him to study and express the concept of space within his buildings; so that he could illustrate his schemes accurately in three dimensions. The laborious task of producing plans, elevations and sections did not properly convey the spatial atmosphere of a building to enable this important design issue to be investigated properly.
Rudolph developed the use of the single-point perspective constructed on a cross-section through the building and drawn in black and white to a large scale is his trademark presentation technique, of which he has become an undoubted master, specifiable to study the spatial qualities of his designs. It is a unique way to examine and illustrate the interior of a building and exceptional for an architect to discover an accurate graphic system expressly for this purpose. The dynamic view of the internal space, its functions and activities inside a building showing its construction, services, furniture and people, all illustrated proportionally to scale and then amplified with light, shadows and texture is the most realistic way of portraying the three dimensions of a building in two dimensions. There is no other modern architect who has used this technique so successfully or achieved such a consistently high standard of presentation to illustrate the spatial qualities in his projects. The meticulous concentration on detail of these manually produced drawings is astounding and now, in the age of computerized images, it is unlikely to be emulated again in the future – nor indeed will it need to be. The fine artistry, which was achieved in Victorian etchings for reproduction purposes, was in some ways parallel with Rudolph’s techniques because the latter, too, were evolved in this form to enable his illustrations to be reduced or sometimes enlarged and then reproduced. They were never in color, always in black and white, and usually in different grades of pen and ink drawings. This graphic technique was particularly subtle and sensitive. It allowed various line thicknesses to reflect the profile, texture and content. By using a different intensity of line Rudolph was able to indicate the relative distances between buildings, outlining the nearest with a wide line and the farthest away in a thin line. This tonal difference was also applied in the graphics, to indicate texture, finishes and shadows while also emphasizing depth and distance in a presentation.
As the size of projects increased so it became necessary to increase the size of the presentation drawings, hence some of these schemes were far too large to be produced by just one person. A team of people was sometimes engaged on one design drawing, all working to a predetermined graphic language to achieve uniformity. It was amusing to see four designers each working on one corner of a huge drawing board on the same drawing with two of them producing their work upside down, all conforming to an agreed set system of graphics and each producing cross-hatched lines! Several copy-printing techniques were employed to avoid laboriously reproducing repetitive components of these large projects. The original design drawing illustrating the megastructure schemes, such as the Graphic Arts Center in New York, has groups of buildings photocopied and stuck in place to avoid redrawing each identical component. As these drawings were usually produced on white paper or card, which did not tolerate mistakes or changes, these large presentation drawings had amendments glued on the master copy in a manner which resembled a patchwork quilt, This did not, however, matter because this was only a stage in the process of illustrating these major projects. Once the final large drawing had been completed, it was then photographically reduced in size and scale and mounted on to card. This produced a pristine drawing free of these original blemishes as well as, of course, creating the impression of a small meticulous drawing with impeccable details. It was important to know at the outset that the drawing would be reduced, and its resultant sizes, because the graphics had to take the ultimate effect into account. The cross-hatching had to be carefully controlled, for instance, and kept spaced out to prevent it closing up and forming a dense black mass as the lines gravitated together at the focal eye point at the very position where it should be thin and light to convey distance. These graphical systems were refined and improved to illustrate the building in the most appropriate manner. The single-point perspective through the main entrance atrium of the futuristic Burroughs Wellcome Headquarters, North Carolina, elegantly expresses this dynamic technique which was then replicated in its actual construction to create these same characteristics in the building itself.
Rudolph had a love of drawing. His industrious output of manual drawings was prodigious – he produced for instance at least eight different fully rendered isometrics of the Art and Architecture Building at Yale, each a work of art in itself. By producing such a detailed study of each scheme he was able at the same time to examine the virtues and weaknesses of each alternative design in a patient search for the most meaningful design solution for a particular project on its particular site. His evolution of the presentational techniques, which enabled him to illustrate and investigate the realities of his buildings, their spaces, texture and character, was developed in parallel with the evolution of his designs. He demonstrates in his art and his architecture the indisputable link between artistic dexterity and creative architectural design talent.
Rudolph refers in the publication of his architectural drawings to the psychological impact of presentation drawings, explaining that it is difficult to represent properly the atmosphere of a building in different climatic conditions, wet and rainy or fine and sunny. He conceded that to draw reality as the human mind sees the building before it is constructed and in use is impossible. ‘I searched for a technique of drawing which would allow my personal vision to be illustrated and arrived at the systems I have used. The renderings are merely a formulation to indicate the general scope of the project, but only the imagination finally determines the character of any building. One can only imagine unbuilt buildings. They can never be truly drawn and so no model or drawing can ever show their ultimate nature.’ (15)
In spite of his reservations about the limitations of two-dimensional drawings or that any form of presentation can ever convey the ultimate nature of a building, Rudolph still achieved a far greater standard of graphic communication through his presentation techniques than any other modern architect. His ability to illustrate immaculately and to evolve his dynamic designs in parallel enabled him to study properly the sculptural reality of his schemes, the technical details and the spaces created in his architecture which have all combined to make him both an outstanding modern architect and a graphic artist of unique distinction.
RE-EVALUATION AND CONCLUSION
There is a renewed recognition and interest in the architectural importance of Paul Rudolph’s work as a Late-Modernist. As he progressed his convictions matured into a belief that architecture was functional, spatial sculpture. He never moved far from his original conviction that the internal function generated the internal and external appearance, but he also believed that the artistic talents of the individual designer created an elegant envelope for these activities with shapes, spaces and structures which were visually satisfying, exciting and indeed dynamic. In this respect he was at one with Frank Lloyd Wright who believed ‘It is not the walls and roof but the space within which is architecture.’
As Paul Rudolph developed his ideas, he too responded to the external contextual influences of the surrounding environment by fitting his designs in with the characteristics and scale of the landscape and townscape. By accommodating these features, a process which he believed constituted the essential difference between genuine architecture and mere building, he is now identified as an important Late-Modernist. In fact seen in the context of the evolution of post Miesian international design, his architectural and artistic achievements lay claim to his being recognized as the key figure in this progressive change of modern American architecture. His constancy was impressive. Throughout his career he was faithful to his fundamental principles of modern design, to his functional, sculptural and, latterly, his spatial and contextual philosophy. His prodigious energy and artistic talent produced numerous high-quality buildings, which are now independently recognized as outstanding examples of heroic Late-Modern design. No one can question his determined convictions, the dynamic sculptural quality of his architecture, the elegance of his houses or his unparalleled reputation for graphic presentations for which he is universally acclaimed. All these remain as a lasting testament to Paul Marvin Rudolph’s influence on modern architecture.
1. ‘Class of ’44’, World Architecture, 19 (September 1992), p 31.
2. Chester Nagel, ‘Walter Gropius et son ecole’, L’architecture d’aujourd’hui (February 1950).
3. Paul Rudolph, ‘Enigmas of Architecture’, A+U Architecture and Urbanism (1977), pp 317-20.
8. Ross Mill, ‘Perspectives’, interview with Paul Rudolph,Progressive Architecture (1990).
10. Le Corbusier, L’Espirit Nouveau.
11. Class of ’44’, World Architecture, 19 (September 1992), p 31.
12. Michael J. Crosbie.
13. Mildred F. Schmertz, ‘Resolutely Modernist’,Architectural Record (January 1989), p 82.
14. Yukio Futagawa (ed), Paul Rudolph, Architectural Drawings, Architectural Book Publishing Co, New York (first published 1981).
For more information about Paul Rudolph and his work, please contact the Foundation via email: firstname.lastname@example.org
The Healy Guest House, also known as the ‘cocoon’ house, employed a sprayed on roof technology that Rudolph discovered while in the navy.