The Ruins of Paul Rudolph’s Architecture

The hardworking staff has long admired the architectural work of Paul Rudolph, especially his Blue Cross Blue Shield building at 133 Federal Street in Boston. (Our 2008 WGBH commentary here.)

But not everyone does.

So we read with interest in the current New York Review of Books Martin Filler’s piece about Rudolph’s shattered legacy.

Among the most acclaimed mid-twentieth- century American architects, none experienced a more precipitous reversal of fortune than Paul Rudolph.

That reversal was caused mostly by Rudolph’s inflexibility and extreme eccentricity (see Yale’s Art & Architecture Building for further details), as Filler chronicled in his review of these two books:

The Architecture of Paul Rudolph by Timothy M. Rohan Yale University Press, 290 pp., $65.00
After You Left/They Took It Apart (Demolished Paul Rudolph Homes) by Chris Mottalini Columbia College Chicago Press, 71 pp., $50.00

We especially noted this Boston connection in Filler’s review:

The press lauded Rudolph’s increasingly bombastic institutional schemes, epitomized by his eerily cavernous, crushingly heavy Government Service Center in Boston of 1962–1971 — a fortress-like complex with a swirling, multilevel interior that brings to mind the inner ear of some Brobdingnagian creature. The lack of critical analysis such overbearing works received at the time is doubtless attributable to the friendships Rudolph cultivated with editors and critics.

Doubtless.

Said fortress-like complex:

Later in his piece, Filler laments one omission in Timothy Rohan’s otherwise “excellent new monograph.”

I was very sorry to find missing from The Architecture of Paul Rudolph what I consider to be his finest work, the Tuskegee University Chapel of 1960–1969 at the historically black college in Tuskegee, Alabama. Rohan says he omitted it for reasons of space, although I can think of no better evidence in support of higher regard for his subject.

Said chapel:

As for the hardworking staff, we were very sorry to find missing from Martin Filler’s piece what we consider to be one of Rudolph’s most appealing works, 133 Federal Street.

Regardless, Paul Rudolph left a legacy in concrete that we demolish to our own detriment. At least for now, it looks like 133 Federal will survive, as long as developer Steve Belkin keeps his word.

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Originally published at campaignoutsider.com on January 27, 2015.

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