Paul Rudolph began the design of the UMass Dartmouth campus in 1963. At the time it was called Southeastern Massachusetts Technological Institute or SMTI. SMTI was the result of a merger of two textile schools that were located in Fall River (Bradford Durfee Tech) and New Bedford (New Bedford Tech). The civic and community leaders of the local region, spearheaded by educator Joseph Driscoll, had lobbied tirelessly for years to secure a regional public institution of higher education in southeastern Massachusetts. The firm of Desmond and Lord of Boston was selected as the architect of record for the SMTI project. They hired Paul Rudolph to design the campus. At the time, Rudolph was one of the most respected architects in the country in addition to being the Chairman of the Architecture Department at Yale University. He was already working with Desmond and Lord on the Government Service Center in downtown Boston and readily accepted the assignment. According to Grattan Gill, job captain for the SMTI project, Rudolph’s agreement with the firm was by handshake.
Rudolph created a master plan for the campus and work began on Group 1. Budget concerns upon the completion of Group 1 (1964-1966) escalated during the planning and construction of Group 2 (1966-1969). Pressure from the State resulted in Desmond and Lord removing Rudolph from the project in June of 1966. Joseph Driscoll, now President of SMTI was a loyal and determined supporter of Rudolph. With the support of the Trustees and the design team at Desmond and Lord, the project was kept on track, on budget and faithful to the original design. Although off the project, Rudolph remained an active advisor to the architects working for the firm. The administration, auditorium, textile and library buildings as well as the campanile were constructed almost simultaneously from 1967 to 1972 under this unusual arrangement. The Research/Violette Building (1969) and the gymnasium (1971) were the only buildings built during this initial phase that were assigned to other architects. In 1964, SMTI had formed its own building authority to construct auxiliary buildings such as dormitories. It hired Rudolph back in April of 1968 to design the student union which is now the Campus Center. Group 6 was constructed in the mid 1970s with Desmond and Lord as architects. However, Rudolph had no direct involvement in the construction of this building. When the architects for the Dion Building were selected in the 1980s (Whitney Atwood Norcross Associates), they asked Rudolph to work on the project. He willingly came back to create the last building constructed on campus in his hand.
In addition to the unique character of the buildings on the UMass Dartmouth campus, one of Rudolph’s major achievements was the master plan. On over 600 acres of undeveloped land, he had the opportunity to incorporate his longstanding theories and ideas about large scale construction and human habitation. All of the elements of the campus design had a particular interest and meaning to him, whether it be the function of Ring Road to the relationship of classrooms and stairways. No detail escaped his consideration. That much of his work at UMass Dartmouth and his other similar projects are enigmatic at best to those who encounter them is the great paradox of his legacy. Critics acknowledge him as a great designer whose buildings are often difficult to appreciate or understand but are permeated with an extraordinary creative skill. SMTI / UMass Dartmouth, then known as Southeastern Massachusetts University, bestowed an honorary degree in Fine Arts to the architect in 1970.
Paul Rudolph quotes about the campus.
“SMTI juxtaposes a pedestrian campus defined by earth mounds with an encircling parking system. A spiraling mall created by buildings organizes the heart of the complex. The campus is intended to be a single building utilizing a single structural-mechanical system, to be constructed of one material. The pedestrian circulation is emphasized in an effort to humanize a campus which will probably grow markedly.”
Paul Rudolph in Moholy-Nagy, Sibyl. The Architecture of Paul Rudolph. New York: Praeger, 1970. p. 152.
“The central organization of this campus is purposely a moving, or dynamic, one. That’s the very nature of what is needed, as I see it. When one gets beyond the spiraling mall, with its defining buildings, walks, terraces, plantings, etc., then other architects will take over, and indeed they already have. In that sense, I’ve thought of it as similar to Thomas Jefferson’s University of Virginia, wherein he made a fixed, well-defined, marvelous central core for the campus. But, beyond the core, other architects took over, building very inferior structures. The idea, the central core, must be strong enough as a center of the campus, and other architects will add on to that. But the cohesiveness of the center remains intact.”
Interview with John Cook and Heinrich Klotz, 1973
"SMU is a new commuter campus on a very large piece of land well removed from other structures. Its design started with Jefferson's University of Virginia and his defined "lawn" surrounded by pavilions connected with covered walks on two sides with the rotunda addressing the view on the opposite side. SMU's "lawn" is a spiralling space, defined by a series of connected buildings on opposites sides, with a narrowed entry at one end and an open ended space at the other where the spiral becomes much larger, is marked by a campanile, and turns towards the lake. This central pedestrian complex was set in a mile diameter access drive connecting to an inner ring of parking. I got fired before the "spiral" was finished but fortunately I had some friends in other architectual offices who saw it through.
Desmond and Lord?
Desmond and Lord, yes - they believed in the scheme and carried out most of the buildings which define the central space."
Davern, Jeanne M. "A Conversation with Paul Rudolph." Architectural Record 170 (March 1982): 90-97.
“From my viewpoint the idea of the campus is that the spines are there and that they might be fleshed out in many different ways, but that the principle of it being one building, i.e. connected, and that the spaces in between are thereby formed on a relatively large scale. You see, I am back to the Piazza San Marco which doesn't have a tree in sight, and all buildings are literally connected with all other buildings, and there are many different uses, and there is focus, a tremendous sense of space, and scale. It remains the greatest outdoor living room in Europe, I believe. Its vitality is there, it has little to do with style, it has little to do with materials, it has to do with the psychology of architectural space.
I do not think it is generally recognized how different conceptually the SMTI campus is. That the whole of America, almost the whole of America, is based on the freestanding building in a plane of space, and that the space in between is simply there. It has no use, no real meaning. And that is a tragedy because the European example is the exact opposite. It took many buildings, built over great length of time, and by placement formed a greater whole, a social whole if you will. And we haven't got the hang of it. But I would insist that the basic thinking at SMTI it is the exact opposite. I don't mean stylistically, which it may or may not be but -- well, it is different of course, but that is not the real point. The real point is that the buildings are connected to form a greater whole, and that whole is a social entity, and that entity is not yet fully developed.
Rudolph, Paul Marvin, 1918-1997. "Sub Rosa: Interview with Paul Rudolph". Ed. Lasse B. Antonsen, January 12, 1996.
“Yes, I was fired. But in a sense, my influence and efforts did not change that drastically -- not at first anyway -- because the other architects -- and I have to emphasize that there were many architects involved -- understood that there was a pervading idea, series of ideas, welding the campus into one, and that it needed to be an ongoing effort, so the other architects actually came to my rescue, otherwise it would not have worked.
The then Governor of Massachusetts [John Volpe] felt very strongly that I should resign, so I had no alternative but to do so. This was essentially over questions of cost, but his staff, as I understand it, reported that our buildings were little, if any, more expensive than others the state of Massachusetts was erecting. But the good governor, as I understand it, retorted that it didn't matter really what they cost, they looked expensive, which I thought was a very nice compliment. In any event, too much was at stake, from my viewpoint anyway, and too much had already been planned or designed or considered. It is one thing to put on paper initial ideas, and it is another thing to see that those ideas are developed properly through the labyrinth of integrating the work of many different kinds of engineering, disciplines, modifications of program, considerations of costs, learning from earlier work on a large project -- both negative and positive --and correcting or modifying that experience.”
Interview with Lasse Antonsen, 1996