De­sign­ing with the Third El­e­ment

Peek be­hind the scenes of Paul Ru­dolph’s pro­gres­sive, na­ture-in­spired de­signs.

Atomic Ranch - - Contents - By Jade Boren and Sarah Jane Stone

Paul Ru­dolph: The Florida Homes gives an in­sider’s per­spec­tive on the famed ar­chi­tect's work in Sara­sota.

SPACE WAS NOT AN EX­PER­I­MENT for Paul and Ralph— it was their de­sign prin­ci­ple.

Break­ing the mold of what “mod­ern” was sup­posed to be, ar­chi­tect Paul Ru­dolph al­tered the land­scape of Sara­sota, Florida.

His ca­reer would even­tu­ally lead him to cre­ate the Yale Arts & Ar­chi­tec­ture build­ing, which is one of the ear­li­est and best known ex­am­ples of Bru­tal­ist ar­chi­tec­ture in the United States, but be­fore this tri­umph there were what can af­fec­tion­ately be called “the Florida houses.”

Paul Ru­dolph: The Florida Houses by Christo­pher Domin and Joseph King pre­serves the tale of Paul’s work in the state. As Christo­pher and Joseph point out, “utopia” may have been Paul’s view of Sara­sota—a place where his mod­ernist de­signs could en­hance the town’s per­ceived ex­otic aura.

EARLY YEARS

Paul stud­ied ar­chi­tec­ture at the Alabama Polytech­nic In­sti­tute, now Auburn Univer­sity. While study­ing, he saw Frank Lloyd Wright’s Rosen­baum res­i­dence, known as one of his finest Uso­nian houses, and the ex­pe­ri­ence left a pro­found im­pres­sion on Paul.

“Like Frank Lloyd Wright, Paul Ru­dolph pos­sessed a rare abil­ity to con­cep­tu­al­ize ar­chi­tec­tural space, and he be­came a master of its han­dling,” Christo­pher and Joseph write. “Both ar­chi­tects

had been trained as mu­si­cians in their early years, and their work can be thought of in such mu­si­cal terms as rhythm and har­mony, theme and vari­a­tion, pro­por­tion, bal­ance, and com­po­si­tion. There is a lyri­cal qual­ity to their work, in the ways that they played the ebb and flow of space, en­clo­sure and open­ness, move­ment and sta­sis. Each was acutely aware of spa­tial ex­pe­ri­ence and the op­por­tu­nity for beauty in com­po­si­tion.”

Af­ter com­plet­ing his bach­e­lor’s de­gree, Paul took a fate­ful job work­ing for pro­gres­sive ar­chi­tect Ralph Twitchell in Sara­sota. The two worked to­gether for six months be­fore Paul en­tered the Har­vard Grad­u­ate School of De­sign in the fall.

ES­TAB­LISH­ING CREDIT

Fol­low­ing his ser­vice in World War II, Paul re­turned to work for Ralph. “In­stead of stay­ing in the north­east­ern ur­ban cen­ters like many of his con­tem­po­raries, he said later that he felt he could be ‘more ef­fec­tive with clients who were build­ing sec­ond homes,’” Christo­pher and Joseph write. “‘There, for me, is some­thing about mod­ern ar­chi­tec­ture which makes it more sym­pa­thetic to warm cli­mates than cool cli­mates,’ he added.”

By 1950 Paul had his Florida ar­chi­tec­tural reg­is­tra­tion and Ralph’s firm had be­come Twitchell & Ru­dolph, Ar­chi­tects. As the firm grew, so did the town of Sara­sota. “The com­mu­nity’s grow­ing so­phis­ti­ca­tion grad­u­ally made it pos­si­ble for Sara­sota to be­come, for a time, the set­ting for a highly in­no­va­tive, mod­ern, re­gional ar­chi­tec­ture,” Christo­pher and Joseph write.

Amid this idyl­lic set­ting, Paul and Ralph com­bined their tal­ents to cre­ate homes that seam­lessly merged de­sign, tech­nol­ogy and craft. “If Sara­sota had its own Per­i­clean Age, the pe­riod from the mid-1940s through the 1950s was that brief mo­ment,” Christo­pher and Joseph write.

NAT­U­RALLY IN­SPIRED

Paul’s de­signs of­ten fea­tured homes set low to the ground to mimic the re­la­tion of the ocean to the beach, ceil­ing-high win­dows and glass doors that open to views of palm trees, and liv­ing rooms with grass in­stalled. And above all, Paul’s de­signs fea­ture co­pi­ous amounts of open space—a con­tra­dic­tion to a cul­ture that rel­ished pri­vacy. Paul’s deep seated de­sire was that his de­signs felt bonded with na­ture.

With Paul’s fo­cus on na­ture, some in his com­mu­nity may have viewed his and Ralph’s projects as the op­po­site of mod­ern.

“They ap­peared not to par­tic­i­pate in Saratosa’s am­bi­tions of eco­nomic and phys­i­cal devel­op­ment, and sup­posed grow­ing so­phis­ti­ca­tion,” Christo­pher and Joseph write.

Be­sides delv­ing into Paul’s de­sign philoso­phies, Christo­pher and Joseph share anec­dotes about Paul, from his ab­hor­rence to­wards pho­tog­ra­phers to how a lack of air con­di­tion­ing could jeop­ar­dize his ope­nair de­signs. This all re­veals Paul as more than just an ar­chi­tect who de­signed mold-break­ing homes. Rather, read­ers are given the op­por­tu­nity to look through the eyes of an ar­chi­tec­tural vi­sion­ary who saw po­ten­tial and pos­si­bil­ity in a truly unique way.

IN­STEAD OF A TRA­DI­TIONAL STAIR­CASE, PAUL IM­PLE­MENTED A “BRIDGE” TO GIVE THE FEEL­ING THAT THE UP­STAIRS BED­ROOM IS FLOAT­ING.

WITH NOT EVEN A THREAD OF CUR­TAIN TO COVER THEM, THE SHOCK­INGLY LARGE WIN­DOWS SERVE AS THE PER­FECT MODEL OF PAUL’S AFFIN­ITY FOR THE “THE­ATRI­CAL GAZE.” PRI­VACY WAS RARELY FAC­TORED INTO PAUL’S DE­SIGNS.

THE HEALY GUEST HOUSE, ALSO KNOWN AS THE CO­COON HOUSE, WAS A RAD­I­CAL DE­SIGN BY PAUL—CON­STRUCTED AS LODG­ING FOR RALPH’S IN-LAWS.

THE UM­BRELLA HOUSE, DE­SIGNED IN 1953, AL­LOWED THE HOME­OWN­ERS TO IM­MERSE THEM­SELVES IN THE NAT­U­RAL EL­E­MENTS. THE SUP­PORT­IVE STRUC­TURE IS MAINLY COM­PRISED OF TWO-BY-SIX LUM­BER, AND A SUN­ROOF RE­PLACES A TRA­DI­TIONAL CEIL­ING THAT WOULD NOR­MALLY SHEL­TER THE EN­TIRE BUILD­ING.

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