the building of art and architecture (february 98) (2023)

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The building that will not disappear
First celebrated, then reviled, burned and battered, the late Paul Rudolph Building of Art and Architecture may experience a renaissance as the School of Art prepares for the final escape.
February 1998
by Mark Alden Branch '86

At a time when so much of what we build seems eerily insignificant,There's something satisfying about a building that's sure to make a fine ruin: a modern-day Stonehenge or Colosseum. The Yale Building for Art and Architecture, towering over the corner of Chapel Street and York Street, is one such building.

Even in A&A's relatively short 35-year history, he has shown incredible staying power, surviving both physical and critical hits. The building's reputation has circulated over the years, from almost unanimous praise to outright rejection and modern admiration ranging from reluctance to enthusiasm. It underwent a devastating fire and a series of renovations that rendered it nearly unrecognizable (at least on the inside) to those who remember its beginnings, and unsuspecting students have long tested its seeming indestructibility. But the building remains, occasionally rewarding an attentive visitor with a glimpse of the spatial delights once present in the magnum opus of architect and former Yale architecture department chair Paul Rudolph.

Rudolph died in August last year at the age of 78, shortly after the university announced plans to move the A&A School of Art to its own Chapel Street facility. The events created an unsettling quasi-coincidence as the School of Art had long complained about the facilities Rudolph designed for them. But together they drew attention to A&A's controversial history and plans to restore it to its original form after the Art School's move.

Paul Rudolph designed dozens of buildings during his 50-year career. But it was A&A, a complicated experiment in liquid space and heavy mass spanning 36 levels, that was most closely associated with his career. Certainly no building better reflected his own dramatic rise and fall. Just as the A&A was soon shunned by students and faculty alike, Rudolph himself fell out of favor within a few years of the building's completion. “I almost never talk about it,” Rudolph said of the building in a 1988 interview. “It's a very painful subject for me. I speak openly about many of my buildings when asked, but I never speak about this building."

President Griswold said, “I don't need a master plan. I just need great architects.”

Twenty-five years earlier, Rudolph, and the rest of the architectural world, could hardly say otherwise. The A&A Building became the crown jewel of President A. Whitney Griswold's distinguished architectural endowment program, a program that included buildings by some of America's leading architects: the Louis Kahn, Morse and Stiles Art Gallery Colleges, and Ingalls Rink by Eero Saarinen, the Beinecke Library by Gordon Bunshaft, the Kline Science Buildings and the Epidemiology and Public Health Building by Philip Johnson, and the Greeley Forest Laboratory and Married Student House by Rudolph.

According to 95MArch by Johannes Knoops, an architecture intern and writer who compiles an oral history of the A&A building, Griswold said: “I don't need a master plan. I just need great architects.” Knoops adds that Griswold gave these architects free rein. "Philip Johnson," Knoops continues, "told us that he never had a big patron because Griswold never asked how much anything cost." and clever buildings.

The A&A building arises from the desire to consolidate and expand the spaceavailable to the university's art, architecture, graphic design, and urban planning programs housed in the Art Gallery, Weir Hall, and Street Hall in the late 1950s and early 1960s. "It is hoped that bringing these disciplines together under a the same roof help give them a sense of unity again," he explained.Architectural RecordMagazine.

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Rudolph's decision to design the building appears to have been uncontroversial, although many later felt that it was not a good idea for architect and client to be the same. Rudolph had been chair of the department of architecture, then a department of the School of Art and Architecture, since 1958 and began to restore his reputation after a period of turmoil in which he lost his accreditation.

He dove into the project with enthusiasm, reviewing at least six schematics before settling on the one that would ultimately be built. Early versions of the building were rational and regular, consistent with Rudolph's Harvard functionalist background. But as the project progressed, other influences emerged: the heavy concrete 'brutalism' of Le Corbusier, the Swiss-born modernist who abandoned the International Style in favor of a more expressionist approach; and the spatial complexity of the work of Frank Lloyd Wright.

To add texture to the walls, concrete was poured in fluted shapes, then workers broke the ribs with hammers.

What ultimately emerged from Rudolph's drawing board was a truly original building, a feat of light, mass, and space, with great attention to design in every whimsical corner. Rudolph originally wanted an atrium spanning the entire seven-story height of the building, but fire codes prevented this. Instead, he created two large open spaces, one on the ground floor that serves as a gallery and meeting room, the other houses the architecture studios on the fourth and fifth floors. Rooms were arranged around these open spaces in a weathervane-like pattern. To give the walls a distinctive texture, Rudolph invented a new technique: Concrete was poured in fluted shapes, then workers used hammers to break the ribs, exposing the rough aggregate below.

The project quickly became a sensation, appearing on magazine covers even before it was built. It caught the attention of a divided architecture community that seemed at a loss as to where to go next. "The building was an attempt to synthesize the seemingly contradictory tensions of modern architecture of the time," says architect Robert A. M. Stern '65March. "He had a little bit of Le Corbusier, a little bit of Wright, a little bit of Mies van der Rohe, and he even played Yale Gothic."

Stern and others remember lovingly observing the building under construction when they were students. Says Alec Purves '58, '65 March, now a professor at the School of Architecture: “We love it. It was exciting to see how it was built.”

The building was opened to students at the beginning of the 1963-1964 school year,and the inauguration took place on November 8. Visitors that day marveled at the complex, its interconnected spaces and unexpected views, while admiring the bright orange carpeting and warm incandescent lighting. Scattered throughout the building were plaster casts of classical works of art, a nod to history virtually unknown in the architecture of the time. Dedication events included a party in the building itself, a dinner for 2,000 guests at various venues on campus (the crème de la crème dined in the A&A penthouse suite), an original musical by Yale composer Quincy Porter, and the long-awaited high note, a speech by respected British architecture critic Nicholas Pevsner.

But Pevsner, a defender of functionalism, did not follow the script. "To everyone's surprise, Pevsner turned out to be a wet blanket," says John Morris Dixon, former editor of theprogressive architectureMagazine present at the opening. "Only his speech warned of the threat of form and reminded everyone that the purpose of a building was to function," comments interpreted as criticism of Rudolph's extravagant formal essay.

While Pevsner's speech could be seen today as a harbinger of the building's stormy future or, as former Dean of the Thomas Beeby School of Architecture put it in March '65, a "curse," it should not dampen the general enthusiasm. The next morning,New York TimesArchitecture critic Ada Louise Huxtable reported that "in a field torn by controversy, architects of opposite aesthetic poles unite in praise" and predicted that the building would "set trends nationally and internationally." It will surely be one of the most influential buildings of this decade.” All major architectural magazines in the United States and abroad have featured the building, and the American Institute of Architects has awarded it a First Prize Honor.

Sculptor Richard Serra '64MFA and painter Chuck Close '64MFA planned to demonstrate the opening ceremonies.

One group where the building did not win any awards were artists whose studios were far from the architects' homes. (Indeed, a group of art students, including '64MFA sculptor Richard Serra and '64MFA painter Chuck Close, had planned to demo the opening ceremonies, but a last-minute meeting with Rudolph calmed them down.) The painters occupied small street studios. South side of the seventh floor, and the sculptor's studio was in a low basement. The painters complained that the only area they found acceptable, part of the fifth floor with the desirable northern lights, was assigned to the City Planning Department.

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The art departments were involved in the planning of the building, but had been neglected by Rudolph. It didn't help that Abstract Expressionism, which had been controlled by Josef Albers, finally found its way to Yale when the building was completed. Suddenly, painters wanted to work on canvases that were too big to fit in their studios or elevators. WhileNew York Times Magazinereports four years later: "A qualified painter wrote that he had wanted to learn the art of miniature painting for a long time and thanked the architect for providing the environment that compelled him to do so."

While the architecture students were more willing to deal with the building, they were also beginning to notice its flaws. Rudolph had designed open studios for them, but the less sociable ones immediately began erecting their own partitions for a measure of privacy. (To be fair, this phenomenon can be found almost everywhere in architecture schools.) The bright orange rugs barely survived the New Haven winter, and the heavy rope drapes (which were actually hammocks used for lifting boats) over the windows proved to be very useful. be ineffective of the wind. Sol. The students also quickly learned that raw concrete is a hazard to clothing and skin. More importantly, it soon became clear that Rudolph's project was hopelessly inflexible. "Everything was packaged perfectly from day one," says Roberto De Alba '88March, who publishes a book on Rudolph. "There was no room to grow."

But A&A's functional deficiencies were only part of the general protest against the building.This began after Rudolph left Yale in 1964 and moved his practice to New York. The new chair of the architecture department, Charles Moore, was part of a group of "postmodern" architects and scholars who challenged some of the fundamental notions of modernism. To her, Rudolph's building embodied everything that was wrong with architecture: it was arrogant, indifferent, detached from history and the buildings that surrounded it. Robert Venturi, who ironically began teaching at Yale under Rudolph's tutelage, has taken it upon himself to condemn Rudolph's "heroic" works in lectures and in print in comparison to his own humble and "contextual" buildings. "Everyone thought it was a masterpiece, but his spirit was the guiding principle," says Mark Simon of '72March. “It was one man's vision of how it would be inhabited, a temple of architecture at the expense of function. He ignored close to two-thirds of his users."

The new contempt for the building also had a political dimension. Some argue that as the spirit of anti-Vietnam and civil rights protests spread among college students, Rudolph's uncompromising design became a symbol of institutional rigidity and authoritarianism. This theory has often been advanced to explain the spectacular fire that ripped through the building in the early morning of June 14, 1969. In fact, no evidence was ever found that arson was the cause of the fire, let alone that schoolchildren they were involved. . But the idea of ​​the students burning down the building has been repeated so many times over the years that many newspapers reported it as fact in their obituaries when Rudolph died. (Some were particularly creative, claiming it burned "during a demo.")

The fire spread through the building in the early morning of June 14, 1969.

Whatever the cause of the fire, the results were catastrophic. In the short term, many students lost hundreds of hours of work. But the biggest loss came with the renovations that took place after the fire, when the changes effectively destroyed the quality of the continuous space that Rudolph had created. New partitions were erected at the behest of the student committees who were struggling to free up more and more space in the overcrowded building. (The sculptors took the opportunity to relocate entirely, moving to Hammond Hall on Mansfield Street.) When the building reopened, it had become a depressing maze of white-walled rooms. "The structure has not been restored," said Thomas Beeby. "Instead, it was undermined on every level." The building that Rudolph designed was buried, if not dead.

A&A was seen as a failure until the late 1980s, when the architectural community began to lose interest in postmodernism. It was a group of architecture students who spearheaded efforts to restore the reputation of the building, and the building itself. In 1987, several sophomores proposed a special elective course that would study a historic building. What better building to start with, they argued, than their own as it approaches its 25th anniversary? “For us, the building was a playground; we keep discovering new spaces,” says Roberto De Alba, who helped design the course as a student. "The goal was to bring the building back into the consciousness of the people."

Students studied the sequence of Rudolph's drawings and the finished product and built a detailed model of it, concluding the course with an exhibit of Rudolph's drawings of the building at the A&A Gallery. As part of the exhibit, students temporarily removed a gallery wall that was not part of the original design, revealing a long-hidden glimpse of the library below York Street. The gesture was just a taste of the building's former appeal to whet an appetite for more, and the seeds of a movement to restore the building were sown. "There were a lot of people at that opening who later donated money for the renovation," says De Alba.

Efforts to renovate and restore the building continued, albeit intermittently, under the direction of Fred Koetter, who this spring will finish a six-year term as dean of the School of Architecture. The building's windows were replaced in 1994 in a troubled project, but the replacement made it possible to remove rusted metal sunshades that had marred the building's exterior since the 1970s. Additional work on the building, led by New York City architects York Polshek & Partners, is on hold until the School of Art moves into the former Jewish Community Center across the street. Architect Deborah Berke's renovation of the JCC Building is expected to be completed by the end of next year.

The dean of the School of Art, Richard Benson, says he won't miss the Rudolph Building."I've been teaching in this building for 18 years and it's a terrible place," he says. "It's hard to be in a building where you could end up in the hospital with abrasions if you bump into a wall. Spatially it's very interesting, but it gets old fast. Who cares if it's 36 levels?

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But some architecture professors and alumni are saddened by the end of the marriage, albeit difficult, of artists and architects. James Volney Righter '70March says: "Even though it was just a love story in an elevator, it felt like we were in an art school. It was a big thing that sets us apart from other schools." Alec Purves, painter and architect, agrees I agree. "I think it's a shame in a way," he says. "I support change, but I think it's a symbolic shame for artists to move."

Even with the whiff of color no longer wafting through design studios, planners hope A&A will continue to be the place for Yale's art programs to interact. The schematic design for the renovation of the Polshek & Partners building envisions the basement and basement of the building becoming part of an expanded art library that will include the drama school's collection. Furthermore, the second floor gallery is envisioned as a space for sharing the arts, perhaps as home to a digital media center. Duncan Hazard '71, project architect at Polshek & Partners: “The second floor should not belong to one school, but to all schools. We see this become the 'Forum of the Arts' at Yale.”

While the likelihood of large-scale restorations remains uncertain (no money has yet been raised), the building gained a respect in its second quarter century that eluded it for much of the first. Students and architects are aware of its many shortcomings and continue to admire the Rudolf monument. "Students find it inspiring," says Thomas Beeby. "The heroic nature of it still resonates with them."

Alec Purves sees things differently, having seen the building in all its glory (as a student) and 20 years as a teacher. "You can find fault with that, but it's like an eccentric family member that you champion outside of the family," he says. “I like working in the building. I'm still discovering spaces that I didn't know before."

The rise and fall of Paul Rudolph

Paul Rudolph was an architect in the uncompromising way of Frank Lloyd Wright, Louis Sullivan, or Ayn Rand's fictional Howard Roark. He stuck to his principles, as well as his military style, even if both were considered hopelessly outdated.

The son of an Alabama preacher, Rudolph studied architecture at Alabama Polytechnic Institute before graduating from Harvard, where Walter Gropius had created an outpost of the International Style. After graduating in 1947, Rudolph began his own private practice in Florida. When he was named chair of Yale's architecture department in 1958, he experienced a meteoric rise in the world of architecture.

At the age of 40, relatively young for an architect, Rudolph was already attracting attention with a series of bright, elegant homes and several schools in Florida. One of his houses was included in Architectural Record's "50 Most Influential Designs Since 1900" in 1956. 1961progressive architecturewrote: "Now that Frank Lloyd Wright no longer dominates the architectural scene, Paul Rudolph is probably the popular press's ideal choice for the role of American space-age shape-maker."

Rudolph also made waves at Yale, transforming the difficult program and making the school a major force in architectural education. Remembers Vincent Scully: “Rudolph brought with him a wonderful optimism; here was the second generation of Gropius who would make the world new!”

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Although Rudolph had very strong ideas about architecture, he ran a school that allowed students to follow their own aesthetic ideas, a characteristic that the school still prides itself on. As a result, many of his students became leaders in the postmodern movement, which rejected his work. "He unleashed the demons of historicism without supporting them," says Thomas Beeby, himself a historian.

Not long after Rudolph left Yale in 1964, his career was in trouble, and not just because of attacks by postmodernists. "He had some big contracts that got him into trouble in New York and Boston," recalls John Morris Dixon. "He began to develop a reputation for extravagance and backwardness." Hurt and wounded by criticism of his work, Rudolph began to withdraw from the spotlight. Until he died of cancer last year at the age of 78, he continued to work, mainly in Asia, where he was commissioned to design several skyscrapers, but became increasingly isolated from the architecture establishment.

The cause of the fire that broke out in the A&A Building on June 14, 1969, may never be known. The fire spread rapidly and became unusually hot, leaving little evidence to arson investigators. Although the New Haven fire marshal initially said he strongly suspected arson, the fire was ultimately ruled an accident because no convincing evidence of criminal activity was found.

Who burned the A&A? That is because?

The cause of the fire that broke out in the A&A Building on June 14, 1969, may never be known. The fire spread rapidly and became unusually hot, leaving little evidence to arson investigators. Although the New Haven fire marshal initially said he strongly suspected arson, the fire was ultimately ruled an accident because no convincing evidence of criminal activity was found.

However, rumors that the fire had been set by students immediately began circulating on campus, fueled by the atmosphere of political and social unrest across the country. The fire occurred shortly after the closure of the Urban Planning Office, a department of the School of Art and Architecture that was becoming increasingly politicized. Johannes Knoops, who interviewed several people about the fire, says Johannes Knoops: "I don't know who it was, but I definitely think it was a reaction to the closure of the city planning office."

The story that got the most coverage in the press claims that the students set the building on fire because, whenNew York Timeswrote in Paul Rudolph's obituary, they considered him "a symbol of the university's aversion to the creative life." This hypothesis is rejected by people close to the school at the time. "It's very wrong to say that the students started the fire," says Mark Simon '72March, who remembers staying in the building with other students to defend it during the riots.

Others remember hearing that the perpetrators were identified but never punished. Architect Richard Nash Gould '68,'72 March says he was told by architectural director Charles Moore (died 1993) that two New Haven teenagers were caught at the scene, but the Yale administration refused to press charges and hushed the matter to avoid provocations. Explosive conflicts between cities. But Henry Chauncey, who was then an adviser to President Brewster, says he never heard such a story and denies there was a cover-up.the building of art and architecture (february 98) (1)


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