The following is the first of a series of posts I plan write about my ongoing research into the work of Paul Rudolph at the Tuskegee Institute.
Around late 1957, notable American architect Paul Rudolph (1918-1997) accepted a commission to design a new chapel for the Tuskegee Institute, one of the country’s early historically black colleges and universities. Rudolph went on to design several buildings and master plans for the campus between 1958 and the late 1980s. Three buildings, including the Tuskegee Chapel, were built, which significantly changed the structure and character of the campus.
Rudolph’s engagement with Tuskegee was neither smooth nor linear. It was a path with dead-ins, U-turns and hairpin curves. It produced one acknowledged masterwork of modern architecture – the Chapel, part of an ensemble of buildings which shifted the symbolic and functional center of the campus.
In order to understand the full meaning of this work and its process, we must understand its context in time and place.
Rudolph began his 30 year relationship with the Institute in the middle of the African-American Civil Rights Movement. The City of Tuskegee is located in the epicenter of the movement, a short distance from where many of its most significant events occurred. These included the Montgomery Bus Boycott, the Freedom Rides, and the Selma to Montgomery marches.
Of course, history is local as well as National. In the late 1950s the workable “town and gown” relationship between the City of Tuskegee and the Institute had begun to deteriorate. It was within this roiling milieu that the Institute lost an iconic symbol of faith and community.
Next: A chapel burns and a community responds.
© Donald E. Armstrong and Material Practices, 2013