Rudolph’s Theater

Contributors
Publication Date
November 19, 2020

M.Arch II 2022 (formerly 2021), 0 hours in Rudolph since mid-review, although I did meet Richard outside to be handed my box of stuff. Current location split between Dry Fork and Blacksburg, VA.

Architects design buildings. It stands to reason, therefore, that architects also enjoy inhabiting good buildings. To concede this point, one does not necessarily need to ascribe to Markus Breitschmid’s Nietzschean claim that the primary purpose of a building is to make people “creative.”1 However, I would argue that in a non-metaphysical way, Rudolph Hall does just that.

It goes without saying that any ode to Rudolph during COVID will come across as pure nostalgia, perhaps even bordering on pathos for a student currently on a leave of absence. This writing attempts to avoid this trap.

Rudolph is important for its obsessive degree of specificity in details and in spatial drama. This is presumably its biggest source of appeal to architects. It is a theater of specific choreography within a dense, concrete (pun intended) form. It is austere but lively, solid yet acrobatic. Numerous subplots unfold within the pits and peripheral spaces: crits, drawing, modeling, badminton, etc. The bridges are arguably the most interesting and happy moments, serving as the transfigured orchestra seats for the various subplots. The bridge occupants are simultaneously passive observers and objects on view.

Gaze is rarely steady in Rudolph. Other than Minerva’s unflinchingly judgmental stare, the occupants’ eyes are always shifting, driven by the constant need to watch for steps, ramps, twists, and turns. Beams of light pouring in from giant windows cause ever-changing shadows throughout the rooms. Even the intense texturization of the walls prevents any visual stasis. This active architecture is [now was] complimented around the clock by equally active occupants.

The theater remains lively late into the night as students wind up and down absurd staircases – which double as full rooms – and across breezeways to visit friends for a break from drawing. This collective activity, in my opinion, is the most devastating loss during remote learning. Drawing while isolated and facing a wall in an empty room at 2 AM has bleak effects on the production of good projects. The kinetic energy of a heroic building and the collective theater of architectural production are greatly missed – especially from my new location, five hundred miles away in rural Virginia.

The gratuity of Paul Rudolph’s design can be seen – critically – as a skewed version of a modernist’s maniacal goal of plastic art. However, it could also be seen – romantically – as a way to literally get the creative blood flowing by constantly moving and turning people in irregular circulation, creating a tour-de-force of form and phenomena to facilitate performance. In this sense of movement, play, and show – rather than in any metaphysical sense – Rudolph Hall does serve to make the people who occupy it more creative.

As the pendulum swings away from the starchitect generation toward a more socially conscious new generation, it is important that we still embrace good and/or fun buildings. A newfound puritan austerity does not improve lives, as our ongoing isolation can attest.

  1. Markus Breitschmid and Valerio Olgiati, “Non-Referential Architecture” (Park Books, 2019).
Publication Date
November 19, 2020
Volume
6
Number
07
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