Paul Rudolph: The Florida Houses By Christopher Domin and Joseph King. Princeton Architectural Press, 2002. 248pp. £28
Paul Rudolph's Art and Architecture Building at Yale (1963) is one of the most spatially complex, dramatic and monumental works of the past half-century - but, for some users and critics, supremely problematic. Even an admirer like Vincent Scully acknowledged that its corrugated concrete was 'one of the most inhospitable, indeed physically dangerous, ever devised by man'. Following the suspicious fire of 1969 which gutted the interior, and later brutal alterations, Rudolph turned his back on it, and his work in the last decades of his life (he died in 1997) drew little of the attention that was given him before.
Only this spring, Architectural Record reported that Rudolph's Orange County Government Center near New York is faced with demolition for being 'too difficult to maintain'. Nonetheless, it seems that Rudolph's reputation is on the rise again.His spectacular penthouse in Manhattan has been expensively restored (AJ 20.12.01), and slowly the original spaces of the Art and Architecture Building are being recovered during works on the Yale campus.
This new book, focusing on Rudolph's early career in Sarasota, Florida, will do his cause no harm. It is the first publication to draw in depth on the huge archive of drawings and documents which Rudolph left to the Library of Congress - a means of properly assessing his achievement.
More than 50 houses, built and unbuilt, are included, the majority from the mid1940s to the mid-1950s; just over half were designed in partnership with Ralph Twitchell, the rest by Rudolph in practice on his own. Twitchell, say the authors, had a real feeling for materials and concern for the construction process, while Rudolph was primarily the designer, drawing with great authority and flair, but then mostly looking forward to the photo-shoot.
Given the complexity in section that distinguishes Rudolph's mature work, one seeks early signs of it here, and they appear - for instance, in the Leavengood Residence (with Twitchell, 1950-51); while the sculptural intensity of the Art and Architecture building has its domestic equivalent in the highlymodelled eastern face of the Milam Residence (1959-61), where Rudolph must surely have been looking at Le Corbusier's Villa Shodhan.
The authors recognise the difference between the photographs that Rudolph sought and the reality his clients inhabited - there is a shrewd 'deconstruction' of Ezra Stoller's much-reproduced image of the Cocoon House (1950). So they do not gloss over the functional failings of some of the houses, though it is interesting to note that a fair number are largely unchanged today.
Their portrait of Rudolph as a Modernist with a regional sensibility, torn between the rational and the romantic and committed to experiment, is convincing, and the book is beautifully produced. The only irritant is that passages from the introductory essays reappear verbatim in the catalogue of the buildings, with an inevitable sense of déjà vu.