Modern Designers

Paul Rudolph

Design Profession: Architect

Building Types: Residential

Paul Rudolph's insightful architectural philosophies and unique expressionist design aesthetic heavily influenced the Mid-Century Modern Movement. Born to a Methodist minister in Kentucky in 1918, Rudolph spent the majority of his childhood and young adult life in Alabama.

Rudolph received a bachelor of architecture degree from Alabama Polytechnic Institute (Auburn University) in 1940. He worked for a short period with architect Robert Twitchell in Sarasota, Florida, before continuing his education at the Harvard Graduate School of Design under Walter Gropius. Gropius introduced him to the concepts of the Bauhaus and the foundations of Modern architecture. Rudolph's education was interrupted by World War II. He trained as a naval officer and gained experience in naval construction, which provided him with the knowledge and experience of building with steel. After the war he returned to Harvard and was awarded his degree in 1947. In 1948 he traveled through Europe on a Harvard Wheelwright Scholarship, where he learned from the historic architecture that it takes more than local materials to create a building distinctive to its region. Upon his return to Sarasota, Rudolph returned to Twitchell's office for a short time before opening his own architectural practice in 1951.

In 1957, with a small yet impressive portfolio, Rudolph became the youngest chairman of Yale's Department of Architecture, a position which he held for eight years. His legacy as an instructor there was not only left in its history, but also engraved in its walls as Rudolph received the commission to design the Yale Art and Architecture Building in 1958. Rudolph credits three events with shaping the architectural vision that he endeavored to pass to students like Norman Foster and Richard Rogers: his training at Harvard, his experience in naval construction during WWII, and his travels to Europe, where he learned that landscape and environment chiefly affect any design.

Rudolph found the challenge of midcentury architecture to be the relationship, or lack of relationship, between the free-standing house and its landscape. In his ideal, the cityscape would be made up of background and foreground buildings. Background buildings, which are monumental (like sky scrapers,) are meant to be appreciated from afar and tie into foreground buildings, the ones standing an intimate one-to-three stories. Michigan is fortunate to have one of his foreground buildings in the form of the Dr. Frank H. Parcells House located in Grosse Pointe. Completed in 1970, the home is a modest example of Rudolph's modernity while seamlessly integrating the design into its natural surroundings.

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