The “Singing Window,” Tuskegee Chapel

 

The African-American spiritual is the unique cultural creation of New World modernity. . . . the spirituals of American slaves of African descent constitute the first expression of American modern music. . . . The spirituals embody the creativity of courageous human beings who engaged the world of pain and trouble with faith, hope, spirit – and a kind of existential freedom even in slavery.

Cornel West, “The Spirituals as Lyrical Poetry”

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tuskegee singing window (2)

 

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tuskegee singing window (7)

 

tuskegee singing window (9)

 

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Click here to hear a recording of Tuskegee Choir performing  “I Couldn’t Hear Nobody Pray”

Click here to see a design drawing for “The Singing Window”

© Donald E. Armstrong and Material Practices, 2013

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