Just as Goering was supposed to have said (but probably didn’t*), “When I hear the word culture, I reach for my gun”, when I hear the term “Yale Architect” I reach for the vomit bag. This 2007 article from the blog Invisible Hand” explains why, by examining the work of Yale’s School of Architecture during the 60s, in “Paul Rudolph’s Designs of Doom”.
OK, let’s just say it. Paul Rudolph may have been the worst architect in America (which, of course, includes the world).
And as if to second the nomination, The New York Times has published two fawning articles recently about his dark genius and the fact that everyone wants to demolish his unsightly work.
On Friday the Times ran a long and profusely illustrated article by some sap who took a road trip to see as many Rudolph buildings as he could in a weekend. Sadly, there are many still standing.
The writer, a Times apparatchik named Fred Bernstein, marvels at the ploddingly dismal insanity that characterizes Rudolph’s buildings.
In describing one monstrosity, Bernstein writes admiringly that “a trip from one room to another can take you up and down six different stairways.” At another he writes, “Some of the exterior features – like stairs to nowhere – are confounding, but a Rudolph wouldn’t be a Rudolph without puzzle pieces that don’t quite fit.” If I owned such a defective puzzle I would throw it away. Unfortunately, Rudolph worked in raw poured concrete and throwing away one of his buildings would involve explosive force measured in megatons and a dozen landfills.
Rudolph’s modernist credentials, like his buildings, are bulletproof. He studied with Gropius at Harvard. He was Dean of the Yale School of Architecture and famously designed the bunker which houses the School. It’s notable that before the concrete had cured on their new home, the students attempted to burn the building down. They failed although you can hardly tell by looking at the place.
Funny how Rudolph buildings are always in danger of destruction by popular demand.
Perhaps the most perfect expression of Rudolph’s dreary brilliance is the sprawling Boston Government Service Center (BGSC), a mental health facility that is part of Boston’s dispiriting Government Center.
Say what you want about Boston’s brutalist City Hall (and I have), but that craptacular pile of concrete never killed anyone. BGSC has.
According to Metropolis magazine, Rudolph wanted to express mental illness in his building and so paid special attention to dank corridors and stairs leading to blank walls. As a result, Rudolph created a mental hospital that actually inflames patients’ emotional disorder. “The building programs disabled behavior,” says wrote Matthew Dumont, a Boston psychiatrist and author of the book, Treating the Poor. The building’s “chapel” was sealed shut after a patient ignited himself there and a catwalk over the lobby had to be glazed over after it invited too many suicide attempts.
At the Orange County Government Center, which vandalizes the otherwise charming town of Goshen, New York, we meet Edward Diana, the County Executive who marvels at the building’s 87 separate roofs . . . “all of which leak.”
Is the building highly valued? “If I took a poll in town,” Diana says, “it would be demolished tomorrow.”