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Too Future for Future: The Architecture of Paul Rudolph

10/06/14

The buildings were large, dominating, consumptive of vertical space and weighted heavily to the earth—all qualities that lent themselves to the Brutalist architecture movement that started on the heels of early 20th century Modernism. Most prominent from the 1950s through the ‘70s, the aesthetic became a favorite for governmental institutions, shopping centers, high-rise residential developments, and any other structure that wished to communicate Brutalism’s intimidating strength and clear functionality. Popularized by French architect Le Corbusier (you’ve seen the chairs, surely), the torch of Brutalism was carried stateside by the likes of one Paul Rudolph.

Sporting a ‘50s gee-whiz haircut and a no-nonsense Mad Men wardrobe, Rudolph was, in his time, underappreciated and often criticized for what were considered unpalatable fortresses—Brutalism taken one step too far. In Rudolph’s work there appeared to be little restraint; the architect excelled at a “more is more” ethos, with buildings that jutted aggressively into space, hacked dimensions into uncommon forms, protruded into bizarre dimensions. A little too future for the present times, Rudolph’s buildings were polarizing. You loved it or you hated it. End of story.

While from the outside Rudolph’s buildings often looked like the background landscapes for Nihilist post-apocalypse films, the inside offered a brighter story. A conflagration of layered rectangles and panes of light, the architect’s work offered unparalleled vantage points to the outside world. The result is an intriguing collection of unique properties that wholly redefined our relationship to the spaces in which we exist.

Appreciation for Rudolph’s work came much later, and is now recognized as some of the most remarkable of its time. Having showed up a little late the to game, much of Rudolph’s work now hangs in the balance, having fallen into disrepair or not have been tended to over the years in the same way, say, a Lautner building might have been. A handful of the buildings have been demolished or in talks of being taken down. And the very experimentation that defined Rudolph’s work might now be part of his posthumous undoing, making the cost of preserving and restoring his work exceedingly expensive.

Singular geniuses often forge their own paths and lead the way. It takes the masses time to wrangle the herd and catch up, enjoying what’s left of the past while hopefully taking care of it for the future.