The Architecture of Paul Rudolph: a new tome charts the rise and fall of one of America’s most divisive architects
It seems astonishing that no one has written a comprehensive monograph on Paul Rudolph before, given his significance in the history of American post-war architecture. His monumental bush-hammered concrete Art and Architecture Building at Yale University is one of the most iconic Brutalist structures of the 1960s. Timothy Rohan tells the story of this controversial monolith (a precursor of the Barbican), which was notoriously torched in 1969, possibly by disgruntled students, but restored in 2009.
Rudolph’s career was overshadowed by this catastrophe, which marked his transformation from prophet to pariah. Once regarded as the saviour of American architecture, latterly he was shunned on his home turf and practiced mainly in southeast Asia. A salutary tale of a gifted architect falling spectacularly out of fashion, Rohan’s perceptive account of Rudolph’s rise and fall provides a fascinating read.
The buildings Rudolph - a complex individual - created, both pre- and post-Yale, were imaginative and refined. Initially based in Florida, he designed a string of innovative houses during the late 1940s and early 1950s that were both technically and aesthetically inventive. One had a concave sprayed plastic roof; another had an undulating plywood canopy.
Walker Guest House (1952-3), my personal favourite, was a glass box with white spider legs and red cannonball weights counterbalancing its cantilevered shutters. Although Rudolph later scaled up after turning his attention to public buildings, the expressive approach that he developed early on continued to prevail. His sculptural Temple Street Garage (1963) in New Haven - poetry in poured concrete - must surely be the most beautiful car park in the world.