Book Review – The Architecture of Paul Rudolph

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Book Review - The Architecture of Paul Rudolph

When Paul Rudolph’s Art & Architecture Building at Yale opened in 1963, architectural historian Vincent Scully wrote that the design “puts demands upon the individual user which not every psyche will be able to meet.” The building was gutted by a suspicious fire in 1969, and, though the cause was never determined, the incident has been interpreted, in whispers and in print, as a rejection of the difficult-to-parse architecture and the difficult-to-pigeonhole architect.

Much as the mystery or grandiosity or wit of the A&A Building may have been too demanding for some student or faculty psyches, an honest assessment of Rudolph’s architecture—and the complicated personality from which it came—has proven too great a challenge for most historians in the 45 years since the fire.

Rudolph died in 1997. Finally, today, we have a scholarly monograph dedicated to his life and work. Timothy Rohan’s book The Architecture of Paul Rudolph is critical, accessible, and comprehensive, which makes the long wait worthwhile—if no less telling.

That gap of nearly two decades is a measure of the lasting effects of the nearly universal critical shunning that took place after Rudolph—once a leader of the postwar generation of American Modernists—failed to adapt his forthright Navy-bred behavior and his deeply mannered personal forms to the times. It is a measure, too, of the effectiveness of Rudolph’s own mostly silent retreat in the face of this rejection. []