Introduction to Paul Rudolph & His Architecture
by Bruce Barnes
Paul Rudolph was one of the leading architects in America in the 1950s and 60s. His fame spanned the time between the eras of the so-called International School and Postmodernism. His architecture was noteworthy for its unique individual style evident in all his projects, including at UMass Dartmouth. UMass Dartmouth, which was originally called Southeastern Massachusetts Technological Institute (SMTI) is not one of the architect’s most well- known projects but it is one of the most significant. Here, he not only created a unified master plan on a completely empty site but also designed individual buildings and surrounding grounds as well. SMTI /UMass Dartmouth, considered ground-breaking in its day, remains a monumental achievement.
Paul Rudolph was born October 28, 1918 in Elkton, Kentucky but spent most of his youth in Alabama. He was the son of Keener L. Rudolph, a Methodist minister and his artistically inclined mother, Eurye (Stone) Rudolph. He graduated from Alabama Polytechnic Institute (now Auburn University) and spent a year working in the office of E.B. Van Keuren in Birmingham, Alabama. It was a year in which he discovered how much he still needed to learn about architecture. He briefly attended the Harvard Graduate School of Design before spending World War II at the Brooklyn Navy Yard. As an officer in the U.S. Naval Reserve, he worked on the design and building of merchant ships in support of the war. It is suspected that it was at this time that he was first exposed to the asbestos that would eventually take his life.
He returned to Harvard after the war and studied under Walter Gropius, founder of the Bauhaus, graduating in 1947. His classmates included people who would become the leaders in American architecture for decades including I.M. Pei and Philip Johnson. After graduation, he settled in Florida and began a partnership with Ralph Twitchell in Sarasota. During this time (1948-1949) he obtained a Wheelwright Traveling Fellowship which he used to tour Europe. He quickly established a reputation for designing modern, sophisticated vacation homes employing innovative design schemes and materials. In 1952, he ended his partnership with Twitchell but continued to practice in Florida, increasingly attracting the attention of the architectural press. He started to receive invitations to serve as guest critic and lecturer at prestigious architectural schools including Yale University. With his national reputation growing, he acquired commissions outside of the South, including the design of two important exhibits for the Museum of Modern Art. This led him to receive two commissions for large-scale buildings in Massachusetts, the Jewett Art Center at Wellesley College (1955) and the Blue Cross Building in Boston (1956).
In June of 1957, it was announced that he had accepted the chairmanship of the Department of Architecture at Yale University. During his years at Yale he began receiving commissions for monumental structures from throughout the Northeast including the Art and Architecture Building at Yale, the Government Services Center in Boston and the SMTI / UMass Dartmouth campus. By this time he had adopted a distinctive style, mostly in concrete, that drew from many sources including Frank Lloyd Wright, Le Corbusier as well as his own prodigious imagination. By the mid 1960s he was one of the most celebrated and in demand architects in the country.
Rudolph’s tenure as an educator at Yale was noted by his willingness to bring important national and international designers to campus to serve as guest critics and lecturers. His Art and Architecture building included a penthouse suite for these distinguished guests. Talented students from around the globe were drawn to Yale to study in this environment. Yale educated a host of designers during these years who would become the next generation of leading architects, including Norman Foster, Robert A. M. Stern, Richard Rogers, Der Scutt and Stanley Tigerman, to name a few.
After leaving Yale in 1965, his career began a slow decline that escalated alarmingly in the early 1970s. By the end of the 1970s, his domestic commissions were few. It was at this time that he began to receive attention from developers in the rapidly expanding nations of Southeast Asia. He received commissions for large scale projects in Singapore, Hong Kong and Indonesia that once again gained him considerable notice in the architectural press, particularly in Europe. The Bond Centre in Hong Kong and the Dharmala Sakti Building in Jakarta are striking examples of his architecture.
Paul Rudolph died August 8, 1997 in New York City. His long-time residence at Beekman Place on the lower east side of Manhattan had become one of his most famous creations. The multi-leveled modern interior with its eccentric exterior addition became legendary. The last few articles published in his lifetime pictured him as being physically ravaged by the asbestos cancer from which he would die. Nearly every obituary remarked on his immense creative capabilities. He was survived by two sisters, Marie Beadle of Decatur, Georgia, and Mildred Harrison of Tucker, Georgia.
Rudolph received hundreds of commissions during his lengthy career. Certainly his most well-known building is the Art and Architecture Building at Yale University. Controversial from the very start (Rudolph was his own client for the project) the A & A continues to generate discussion as a result of its recent renovation. It appears in nearly every textbook on twentieth-century architecture as the pinnacle of Rudolph’s work. Other buildings which have received long-lasting praise include the Healy Guest House or Cocoon House in Sarasota, FL; the Walker Guest House on Sanibel Island, FL; the Milam House in Jacksonville, FL; the Jewett Art Center at Wellesley College; The Chapel at the Tuskegee Institute, Tuskegee, AL; The Bass House in Fort Worth, TX as well as SMTI / UMass Dartmouth.