Paul Rudolph

Early Work   1941-1960

Paul Rudolph (1918-1997, United States) was one of the pioneers of the Sarasota School of Architecture, a group of post-war modern architects (1941-1966) known for thoughtful consideration of how architecture should adapt to local climates and landscape. Before moving to Sarasota in 1941 to work for Ralph Twitchell, Rudolph studied architecture at the Alabama Polytechnic Institute (now Auburn University) and received a Master of Architecture from Harvard. Rudolph’s studies endured a brief pause by a stint in the Navy – an experience that transformed his architectural practice.

Cocoon House (Healy Guest House), Siesta Key
April 1951

Photo: Joseph Janney Steinmetz, State Library and Archives of Florida

Rudolph designed the Cocoon House with a concave roof finished with a spray-on technology that he encountered as the Officer-in-Charge of Ship Construction at the Brooklyn Navy Yard.

Once graduated from Harvard in 1946, Rudolph returned to Sarasota as an associate of Twitchell’s. Rudolph implemented a new architectural philosophy developed at Harvard: Architectural Modernism, which was led by Walter Gropius and strongly inspired by several European refugees who emigrated to America when the Bauhaus was closed by the Nazis in 1933. Architectural Modernism sustained the Bauhaus philosophy that art and engineering benefit one another when unified in design – put into practice through refined craft, techniques of mass production, and modern materials. For the Sarasota School, this concept manifested itself in open plan structures that allowed for enjoyment of indoor-outdoor living with protections from Florida’s fauna and unpredictable weather conditions. These specific design elements, like deep recesses and wide overhangs that helped shape and direct natural light, fixed glass planes that provided ventilation, and concrete construction systems that resisted mildew, fire, and hurricanes, allowed structures to attain the benefits of indoor-outdoor living without the confrontation of Florida’s harsh outdoor elements.
In 1952, Rudolph left Twitchell’s firm to start his own. Soon after, he was awarded the “Outstanding Young Architects Award” in an international competition in São Paulo, catapulting Rudolph to worldwide recognition and significance.
Revere Quality House

Photo: Ezra Stroller, Architectural Forum October 1948

Sarasota High School   1958-1960

Riverview High School

Source: Paul Rudolph Heritage Foundation

The same year that Rudolph was appointed the Chairmanship of the School of Architecture at Yale University, he began to design the new Sarasota High School building to expand the Collegiate Gothic building designed by M. Leo Elliot in 1926 that the Museum now occupies.
Having just completed the construction of Riverview High School as a steel skeleton complex, Rudolph sought a different design composed of folding concrete plans. Inspired by the open, practical spaces of architect Le Corbusier’s work in India, Rudolph designed a system of horizontal plates and vertical piers to provide solutions to Sarasota’s climate, such as classrooms situated along an open-air axis to provide natural ventilation.

Rudolph designed the Vocational Shops building, which now hosts the Museum’s Bistro and McGuire Hall, in conjunction with the high school in 1959. This building provided space for students to sell items from their trade studies, which included Agriculture, Shop, Wood, and Metal classes. As an ode to M. Leo Elliot’s Collegiate Gothic exterior, Rudolph incorporated bricks into the structure. Rudolph also implemented functional elements, such as the square openings at the north end of the building, which provided ventilation for the spacenow solely serving a decorative function that projects dancing shadows across the façade as the sun shifts throughout the day.

Sarasota High School entrance rendering

Source: The Paul Rudolph Heritage Foundation

An effort has been made in this building to make the mechanical space eloquent and integrated into the whole, rather than an appendage cutting the pure structure indiscriminately. Mechanical systems should not render our buildings like Swiss cheese.

Sarasota High School

Photo: Ezra Stroller

Rudolph received the prestigious Award of Merit from the American Institute of Architects Honor Awards Program in1962 for his Sarasota High School design. The SHS project signifies Rudolph’s exploration of new design elements, such as mass and grand appearance over airy, finer, and prefabricated materials. The building is one of Rudolph’s last Sarasota projects before he relocated to the Northeast, where the city spaces were more accommodating to his interest in mass scale.

Late Work   1960-1997

Rudolph on site during construction of Temple Street Parking Garage

Photo: Judith York Newman

Rudolph’s newly discovered interest in large-scale structures forever altered his design language. While the relation of scale and space were considered in his earlier work, in conversation with functionalism and modularity, Rudolph later honed his control of space through imaginative explorations of controlled light and shadow. The exaggerated shapes integrated into many of Rudolph’s projects from the 60s and 70s were achieved with the concrete block types Rudolph developed himself. These details gave the interiors and exteriors of his designs sculptural appeal that distinguished these structures from the flatness of his 1940s and 50s projects, although this is not to say that the play of horizontal and vertical planes did not persist in his designs–this relationship remained core to his practice.

Boston Government Service Center, 1962-1971, Source: Architectuul
Boston Government Service Center

Source: Architectuul

An example of the fluted, ribbed, and splitface block types developed by Rudolph.

People, if they think about architecture at all, usually think in terms of the materials. While that’s important, it’s not the thing that determines the psychology of the building. It’s really the compression and release of space, the lighting of that space—dark to light—and the progression of one space to another. Because one remembers in that sense.

Interior of the Orange County Government Center, Goshen NY

Source: Paul Rudolph Heritage Foundation

During Rudolph’s later years, many of his projects were focused abroad with large-scale projects in Singapore, Hong Kong, and Indonesia. Despite their grander scale, elements in these projects reflected those of his earlier designs. Rudolph’s dedication to adapting to the environment and regional tradition, his favor for modularity and dislike of symmetry, and his belief that variety was an important part of design endured until his death in 1997.

Rudolph has received myriad international awards and honors, including the First Honor Award for Art and Architecture Building from the American Institute of Architects in1964 and extending to the acquisition of his architectural drawings by the Museum of Modern Art in 1985.
Rendering by Rudolph of the Concourse, Singapore 1981-1994 Source: Paul Rudolph Heritage Foundation
Rendering by Rudolph of the Concourse, Singapore

Source: Paul Rudolph Heritage Foundation

Rudolph honors the pagoda structure by echoing the traditional shape with cantilevered elements.

This online exhibition will be on view in the Museum’s Rudolph building.