The architect who designed my old school:
Much later I learned that it was the work of Paul Rudolph, a Kentucky-born architect who, in the second half of the 20th century, produced a remarkable series of buildings, virtually all of them of concrete poured into shapes so complex that users were both exhilarated and mystified, often at the same time. When he died in 1997, he was lauded as a homegrown talent who had adapted the ideas of European modernists â€” like Le Corbusier and Mies van der Rohe â€” into a uniquely American body of work….
If Rudolphâ€™s buildings arenâ€™t as highly valued as those of some of his contemporaries, thatâ€™s in part because they arenâ€™t as well understood. But it isnâ€™t difficult to become familiar with Rudolphâ€™s prodigious output. In a Rudolph-themed road trip last month, with New York as a base, I was able to see nearly a dozen of his buildings in three days.
Rudolphâ€™s earliest buildings are in and around Sarasota, where he worked in the 1950s after studying architecture at Harvard and serving in the Brooklyn Navy Yard during World War II. His final works are in Singapore and Hong Kong, where he was welcomed after falling out of favor with American developers. But much of his midcareer output is in the Northeast, where I made my pilgrimage. (Manhattan, Rudolphâ€™s home for decades, has three Rudolph buildings, all town houses, but two are never open to the public and the third, completed after his death, offers only a glimpse of his talent.)
The largest of Rudolphâ€™s works in the United States is the campus of the University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth, in southeastern Massachusetts, built in the 1960s, after Rudolphâ€™s tenure of six years as dean of the Yale architecture school. As a young man, Rudolph had visited medieval towns in Europe, and at Dartmouth he created the equivalent in poured concrete: two vast, twisting buildings circle a campanile. At a time when modernism was largely about mass production, Rudolph went the opposite route, sculpturing a seemingly limitless variety of forms. Inside, the trip from one room to another can take you up and down six different stairways.