Rudolph at Tuskegee (Part 1)

 

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.

 Paul Rudolph  Source: Library of Congress


Paul Rudolph
Source: Library of Congress

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.

 Tuskegee Interdenominational Chapel  Source: Library of Congress


Tuskegee Interdenominational Chapel
Source: Library of Congress

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.

 Selma to Montgomery-March  Source: Library of Congress


Selma to Montgomery-March
Source: Library of Congress

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

The Velocity of Space: Paul Rudolph’s Tuskegee Chapel

 

The movement of space has velocity, for space flows much in the manner of water from one volume to another. Especially important are the “connections” between one spatial volume to another.

Paul Rudolph, “Enigmas of Architecture,” A+U Architecture and Urbanism (1977), pp 317-20.

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© Donald E. Armstrong and Material Practices, 2013

 

Critical Regionalism and Brutalism: Part 2

In my last post I argued that the dissimilar architectural movements of Critical Regionalism and Brutalism shared several key principles:

  • Belief in the emancipatory potential of modern architecture
  • Rejection of the of the International Style (Critical Regionalists for its placelessness; Brutalists for its lack of tactile presence and devaluation by its postwar corporate clientele)
  • Emphasis on rough-hewn materiality of vernacular and indigenous buildings
  • Appreciation for the geometric simplicity of vernacular form combined with a commitment to transform rather than mimic this form

The following are 5 buildings which have features of both Critical Regionalism and Brutalism.

 

Saynatsalo Town Hall, Saynatsalo, Finland, 1949: Aalto, Alvar

Saynatsalo Town Hall

Saynatsalo Town Hall

Saynatsalo Town Hall (Photo: Galinksky)

Saynatsalo Town Hall (Photo: Galinksky)

Both Frampton and Banham cite Saynatsalo’s relevance to, respectively, Critical Regionalism and Brutalism.

Frampton uses the building’s promenading path, involving changes in elevation, as an example of architecture that brings kinesthetic and tactile experience together (Frampton 1983: 28). Banham states that Saynatsalo was a significant influence on early Brutalists (Banham: 47). This can be seen in its simple, sculptural, volumetric form. It’s influence can also be seen in the work of the “Brick Brutalists,” architects who branched off of the béton brut construction which dominated Brutalism (Banham: 125-126).

 

La Martella, Matera, Italy, 1951: Quaroni, Ludovico, et al

La-Martella (Photo: http://omnisolidatum.tumblr.com/)

La-Martella (Photo: http://omnisolidatum.tumblr.com/)

Along with Saynatsalo, Banham cites Ludovico Quaroni’s work at La Martella as an influence on early Brutalists. The use of heavy, rusticated walls and simple volumetric forms alludes to the preindustrial rural masonry vernacular appreciated by some early Brutalists.

These same characteristics qualify it as a critical regionalist building. The building appears to draw directly from the local indigenous architecture of “sassi (literally “stones”) cliff dwellings (Wolfe).” Wolfe points out the how these buildings were ”adapted” to regional climate, “cool, moist winter climate and hot and dry summers.”  The walls appear to be made of the local sandstone tuffa.

Maisons Jaoul, Paris, 1954: Le Corbusier

The later history of the New Brutalism has much less to do with the theoretical propositions of the Smithsons than it has to do with the progress and permutations of the style invented by Le Corbusier for these two-houses-on-one-podium at Neuilly. They ‘became’ Brutalism . . .

(Banham: 85)

Maisons-Jaoul (Photo: https://gelber2000.wordpress.com/houses/casa-torre/jaoul-upper/)

Maisons-Jaoul (Photo: https://gelber2000.wordpress.com/houses/casa-torre/jaoul-upper/)

Banham describes the houses’ Brutalist features:

Material ‘as found,’ their power as an ‘image,’ . . .  raw concrete and exposed brickwork . . . wall as a surface [texture] not a pattern . . . crude and primitivistic building techniques . . . the labor that built them ‘with ladders, hammers and nails’ was ‘Algerian.’

(Banham: 85-86)

Their tactile surfaces of local, roughly laid brick, combined with their modernist forms and cut-out openings qualify the Maisons Jaoul houses as examples of Critical Regionalism.

 

Sugden House, Hertfordshire, UK, 1956: Smithson, Alison and Peter   

Sugden House (Photo: Kalle Söderman  http://img.kalleswork.net/The_Smithsons-Sugden_House/IMGP6069)

Sugden House (Photo: Kalle Söderman
http://img.kalleswork.net/The_Smithsons-Sugden_House/IMGP6069)

Sugden House (Photo: Kalle Söderman  http://img.kalleswork.net/The_Smithsons-Sugden_House/IMGP6069)

Sugden House (Photo: Kalle Söderman
http://img.kalleswork.net/The_Smithsons-Sugden_House/IMGP6069)

The Sudgen House shows the Smithsons’ interest in “peasant dwelling forms” and materials. This was a strikingly original approach for architects whose Miesian Hunstanton School is considered one of the first exemplars of the New Brutalism.

It foreshadows early postmodernist architects’ technique of transforming a vernacular house form by punching openings in the skin as determined by light and views rather than by classical compositional principles. Its open plan expresses another modernist tenet.

The house is modern yet also regionalist:

  • English cottage form
  • Traditional brick loadbearing walls
  • Exposed heavy timber beams in the interior

This project actually shows the Smithsons more in line with the béton brut inspired, rough-hewn masonry Brutalism, than the Miesian-inspired Brutalism of Hunstanton. The dominant texture is rough:

  • Rough-face, rough-laid brick
  • Tile roofing, sloped and prominent
  • Rough-face timbers

The tactility of honest materials.

 

Biennale Sculpture Garden, Giardino delle Sculture, Venice, 1950-1952: Carlo Scarpa

Biennale Sculpture Garden (Photo: "SEIER+SEIER" http://www.flickr.com/photos/seier/2980306178/in/set-72157608335397706)

Biennale Sculpture Garden (Photo: “SEIER+SEIER”
http://www.flickr.com/photos/seier/2980306178/in/set-72157608335397706)

Although not a Brutalist design, Scarpa’s use of rough-hewn textures and sculptural volumetric forms is right out of the Brutalist playbook.

The pavilion roof deftly frames the rich fabric of the brick wall of the adjacent historic building. It creates a dialectic of abstract and tangible. The circular opening orchestrates changing patterns of light, shade and shadow indexing diurnal and seasonal cycles of sunlight.

Scarpa’s Garden shows how Critical Regionalism can use bricolage to combine found elements – the historic wall – and new elements – canopy and planter/pillar. Scarpa was noteworthy for being a modernist architect who respected the past and wove contextual elements into his designs. Formally, it echoes Le Corbusier’s play of traditionalist rough-hewn masonry masses against modernist smooth-surfaced planes.

 

Sources Cited:

Banham, Reyner. The New Brutalism: Ethic or Aesthetic? New York: Reinhold Publishing Corporation, 1966.

Frampton, Kenneth. “Towards a Critical Regionalism: Six Points for an Architecture of Resistance.” The Anti-Aesthetic. Essays on Postmodern Culture. Ed. Hal Foster. Seattle: Bay Press, 1983.

Frampton, Kenneth. Modern Architecture: A Critical History. New York: Thames and Hudson, 1994.

Frampton, Kenneth. “Ten Points on an Architecture of Regionalism: A Provisional Polemic. Architectural Regionalism: Collected Writings on Place, Identity, Modernity, and Tradition. Ed. Vincent B. Canizaro. New York: Princeton Architectural Press, 2007.

Wolfe, Charles R. “Lessons From Italy’s Matera, the Sustainable City of Stone.” theatlantic.com. http://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2011/09/lessons-from-italys-matera-the-sustainable-city-of-stone/244622/

 

© Donald E. Armstrong and Material Practices, 2013

 

Critical Regionalism and Brutalism: Part 1

 

Critical Regionalism: The Hedmark Cathedral Museum, Hamar, Norway, 1979 ( Sverre Fehn) Credit:  pritzkerprize.com

Critical Regionalism: The Hedmark Cathedral Museum, Hamar, Norway, 1979 ( Sverre Fehn)
Credit: pritzkerprize.com

Introduction

Critical Regionalism and Brutalism, seemingly contradictory architectural movements, share several core principles.

This essay will explore the similarities between these dissimilar movements. This matters because it:

  • Increases our understanding of “Brutalist” works and challenges the reductionism which often follows categorization
  • Illuminates a key theme of both movements: a building can be a concretization of a particular cultural milieu, free of dogmatic aesthetic rules
  • Shows their shared view of the importance of materiality in architecture

 

Critical Regionalism

Critical regionalism is defined by Kenneth Frampton as a category of modern buildings which are expressive of their local “rooted culture.” They mediate a dialectic between global modernity and local vernacular in order to resist the placelessness and reductionism of the International Style (Frampton 1994: 314).

Frampton notes that critical regionalism is not a style but “a critical category oriented towards certain common features . . . or rather attitudes . . . (Frampton 1994: 327).” Frampton expressed these features as a series of points, including:

Point 1: Critical Regionalism and Vernacular Form: rather than mimicking the stylistic features of vernacular architecture, Critical Regionalism draws on its ability to establish “bounded domains and tactile presences with which to resist the dissolution of the late-modern world (Frampton 2007: 378).”

Point 2: The Modern Movement: modern architecture’s “cultural legacy remains infinitely rich . . . (Frampton 2007: 380).”

Point 6: Typology/Typography: “topography is unequivocally site-specific . . . the concrete appearance of rootedness itself . . . . [a building should] relate to existing topographic features (Frampton 2007: 382).”

Point 8: Artificial/Natural: “the provision of natural light in relation to diurnal and seasonal change . . . the modulation and control of direct natural light . . . . [and] the provision of natural shade . . .[are] the rooted forms of climatically inflected culture (Frampton 2007: 383-84).”

Point 9: Visual/Tactile: “the architectural object is open to levels of perception other than the visual. . . . Materials and surfaces can be as much a part of an overall perception of architecture as . . . visual form. [this includes] movement as it effects the sense of poise experienced by the body. . . such experiences are particularly expressive of hierarchical spatial episodes (Frampton 2007: 384).”

Concerning Critical Regionalism’s use of vernacular forms, Frampton states that:

While opposed to the sentimental simulation of local vernacular, Critical Regionalism will, on occasion, insert interpretive vernacular elements as disjunctive episodes within the whole. (Frampton 1994: 327)

A building, therefore, might be classified as an example of critical regionalism if it:

  • Has the emancipatory qualities of modern architecture without its placeless reductionism
  • Follows the site’s topography
  • Maximizes the use of natural light
  • Enhances tactile and kinesthetic experience

 

Brutalism

Villa de Madame Manorama Sarabhai, Ahmedabad, India, 1951  ( Le Corbusier)  Photo: Christian Staub © FLC/ADAGP

Villa de Madame Manorama Sarabhai, Ahmedabad, India, 1951
( Le Corbusier)
Photo: Christian Staub © FLC/ADAGP

Brutalism was a movement in architecture from the 1940’s through the 1970’s. The buildings associated with it are characterized by sculptural forms, strong use of repetition and raw exposed materials – typically concrete and masonry. Brutalism holds a “reverence for materials.”

It drew inspiration from vernacular architecture and found “its closest affinities in peasant building forms. We see architecture as the direct result of a way of life (Banham: 46).”

Reyner Banham emphasized how the Brutalists – the second generation of modernist architects – possessed the earlier generation’s interest in indigenous and vernacular architecture and art:

They saw, in Mediterranean peasant buildings, an anonymous architecture of simple, rugged geometrical forms . . . unaffectedly and immemorially at home in its landscape setting. (Banham: 47).

Brutalism was strongly influenced by the work of Le Corbusier. Its name is derived from béton brut, the raw exposed concrete-work explored by Le Corbusier. In addition to this richly tactile material, Le Corbusier also used other rough-hewn materials such as stone and rough brick.

Brutalism had its critics, both in the profession and in the general public. However, it’s currently undergoing a reevaluation and re-appreciation. Pulitzer Prize-winning architectural critic Paul Goldberger states that:

There is a particular kind of beauty to the magnificent three-dimensional compositions of say, Paul Rudolph, who trust that sculptural and spatial complexity will excite us more than it will confuse us . . . . (Hay: 30)

In Part 2, I’ll illustrate the shared principles of Critical Regionalism and Brutalism using examples of architectural works.   

Cabanon de Le Corbusier, Roquebrune-Cap-Martin, France, 1949 (Le Corbusier)  Photo: Des Jeunes Gens Modernes

Cabanon de Le Corbusier, Roquebrune-Cap-Martin, France, 1949 (Le Corbusier)
Photo: Des Jeunes Gens Modernes

Sources Cited:

Banham, Reyner. The New Brutalism: Ethic or Aesthetic? New York: Reinhold Publishing Corporation, 1966.

Frampton, Kenneth. “Towards a Critical Regionalism: Six Points for an Architecture of Resistance.” The Anti-Aesthetic. Essays on Postmodern Culture. Ed. Hal Foster. Seattle: Bay Press, 1983.

Frampton, Kenneth. Modern Architecture: A Critical History. New York: Thames and Hudson, 1994.

Frampton, Kenneth. “Ten Points on an Architecture of Regionalism: A Provisional Polemic. Architectural Regionalism: Collected Writings on Place, Identity, Modernity, and Tradition. Ed. Vincent B. Canizaro. New York: Princeton Architectural Press, 2007.

Hay, David. “Defending Brutalism: The Uncertain Future of Modernist Concrete Structures.” Preservation, Winter 2013. http://www.preservationnation.org/magazine/2013/winter/defending-brutalism.html#.UjsZfMZ6ZAE

Wolfe, Charles R. “Lessons From Italy’s Matera, the Sustainable City of Stone.” theatlantic.com. http://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2011/09/lessons-from-italys-matera-the-sustainable-city-of-stone/244622/

 

© Donald E. Armstrong and Material Practices, 2013