Life After Love
Yale School of Public Health, Class of 2020. Present at the last “true” 6 on 7, deeply enamoured of the building. Currently in St. Petersburg, FL
I am surprised by the sense of grief I feel for “losing” Rudolph Hall, a place that never was mine in the first place as a non-architect, an outsider – can you grieve (or love) something that never was yours, that never has been truly lost? Am I entitled to grief as a stranger who first fell in love with the building as I passed by on my daily commute, and later as I was swept upwards, inside, invited to the rooftop for queer mixers, immersed in books in the Loria library, adopted by several friendly architects. A curious observer, a witness. A participant?
Rudolph Hall has played variable functions in my life, its purpose as a fortress, a waypoint, nexus, monolith, and refuge changing seasonally. Its role in my life changed as I changed, even as the structure remained the same. But much like bodies, don’t buildings also change? Or perhaps it is our impression of them that changes. Or our impression of ourselves in them, surrounded by them, entering and leaving them (sometimes for the last time), that colors our memories of them. It is the weight of the loss of these interactions, real and imagined, that causes us to grieve. And if grief is the final act of love, what comes after?
As I write this I think about personal and collective grief: having lost an uncle to cancer a week before attending In Memoriam – an exhibition at YSoA in February that showcased tombs architects designed for themselves, a poignant conversation about memory and death – I found peace contemplating what my own mausoleum would look like, solace in talking about death with strangers. Now that is all we do. I thought of the distinct fates of Paul Rudolph, who died from a cancer resulting from his long career working with asbestos, and Louis Khan, who died quickly of a heart attack in a restroom at Penn Station in Manhattan, heavily in debt. I thought of my own death: would it happen publicly? Privately? Would it be quick or drawn out? Now, with COVID-19 spreading, I think about what my epitaph might read.
I remember celebrating my birthday at Rudolph Hall, perched atop the roof. I dreamt of climbing the silver railing and stepping off into space, gliding, descending over Chapel Street and circling the Green, alighting like a gargoyle on tall steepled buildings. After my uncle died, I briefly thought of what it might feel like to fall instead of float, the air flowing swiftly past my face, the pavement offering no cushion.
A YSoA alum from the 1980s first introduced me to New Haven through her detailed sketches of Old Campus. From my vantage point on the roof, I squinted and tried to imagine the overlay, her detailed sketches of the brown and gray gothic buildings against the present landscape, a past reality juxtaposed with the current reality. What lines had been added? Had I added or erased any myself?
I imagine Rudolph Hall to be as it was, at least how it was to me: preserved, as in a sketch. I remember the feeling of running my hands across its rough, exfoliating, bush-hammered concrete walls. Or the nights I used it as a beacon, a waypoint of where to turn down Chapel Street on nights I stumbled mindlessly back home, alone with my thoughts. I remember the soft feel of the Paprika-colored carpet, a spice I owned but rarely used, relegated to the back of my spice drawer. I hear the hum of conversation wafting from mixers, the nights when I spoke to so many fascinating architects about their work that I went hoarse. Did I offer much in return?
I remember the feeling of tucking an Atticus coffee beneath a sweater strategically draped over my arm on days when I forgot my thermos, hoping the librarian in Hass wouldn’t see or, if they did, would at least be understanding. I remember late at night watching architect friends mull over models, alternative realities, cities and landscapes that didn’t yet exist but could. I recall how the imposing Brutalist walls of Rudolph Hall seemed all the more brutal when, after a particularly harsh fight with a partner, a talented but unempathetic graphic designer whom I loved deeply (too deeply perhaps), I downloaded Grindr to confirm what I already knew to be true: there he was, a green dot. Brightly shining green dot. Pale, cold green dot. Active. The shadow of Rudolph Hall seemed more imposing that night. Perhaps that’s what grief is, a light that shines dimly in the distance, never truly subsiding. He introduced me to Paprika! In the months that followed our end, Rudolph served as a space for new beginnings, a refuge, an escape. I never had to present my work at a crit, never took an architecture course, but somehow cannot imagine my experience in New Haven without it. Over 1,000 miles away now, I still reminisce.
For me, Rudolph Hall is near the center of a snow globe that is New Haven: preserved in its idyllic state. Perhaps I am lucky to have this outsider view, to retain an idyllic image of what it looked like before social distancing and myriad other COVID-restrictions. I have never returned to Rudolph Hall (and may never again, although I hope to). The image of it in my mind is estranged from reality, but maybe it’s better that way. And yet still I grieve.