ARCHITECTURE REVIEW: Two buildings, one with ideas

In 1963, two new architectural icons opened on Yale’s campus. Both were seen by some as arrogant, bombastic buildings that drew too much attention to themselves.

One, Gordon Bunshaft’s Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, has grown on the University. The Beinecke no longer seems to shout at those walking on the Hewitt Quadrangle; rather, it whispers.

Yale's Art & Architecture Building will be rededicated this weekend as Rudolph Hall.
Yale's Art & Architecture Building will be rededicated this weekend as Rudolph Hall.

The other, Paul Rudolph’s Art & Architecture Building, has never whispered to anyone. It is a masterpiece of Brutalism, yet it has had a completely brutal reputation among students and faculty for more than 40 years.

This weekend, the rebirth of Rudolph’s magnum opus is officially unveiled. Forty-five years to the weekend after the building’s first dedication, the restoration designed by Charles Gwathmey ARC ’62 has once again made it a source of pride for Yale after years of neglect and abuse.

Indeed, in just the two months that the newly christened Paul Rudolph Hall has been open, it has made up for lost time in gaining the affection of this University. No longer do students call it an eyesore; I even spotted an Economics major aimlessly walking its halls last week, seeming to lose himself not just in the building, but also in the architecture.

As part of the two-year, $130-million project, Gwathmey was also assigned the daunting task of designing an addition to house office space and classrooms for the History of Art Department. Unlike its neighbor, there is little doubt that this building, the Jeffrey Loria Center for the History of Art, will never grow on Yale. At best, it will simply be forgotten.

In a word, the Loria Center seems uninspired. Rudolph’s building does not look like any other on campus, but it is still contextual. Standing firm on its important New Haven corner, Rudolph Hall masterfully completes the procession of iconic arts buildings on Chapel Street. But it does more than just respond to the great works of Louis Kahn; Rudolph was mindful of the campus as a whole, and the massing of his design reinterprets the great Yale towers designed by James Gamble Rogers 1889 and others.

The Loria Center, while a pragmatic success, does not relate significantly to any other building in this way. Its zinc panels are meant to recall Kahn’s Center for British Art, but they lack the solidity that defines Kahn’s work. The main staircase of the Loria Center features prominent views of Kahn’s art gallery, but — fittingly — allows for an even more direct view of the adjacent loading dock.

In a way, the Loria Center may very well be the most expensive loading dock ever built. Students and faculty enter through its doors, ride in its elevators and take classes in its rooms. But no one wants to dwell in the Loria Center.

It is altogether fitting, then, that the Loria Center is strongest in its connections with Rudolph Hall. Importantly, the Loria Center splits into two wings beginning on its fourth floor, preserving views to the north for architecture students. (Richard Meier’s earlier scheme for the addition would have blocked off Rudolph Hall’s north-facing windows.)

Gwathmey’s clever pair of windows on Loria’s third-floor lecture hall allows for a fleeting, romantic view of Rudolph Hall from a blank Loria hallway. The new Haas Family Arts Library, which connects Loria to Rudolph on the lower levels, follows the mold of the music library that was added to Sterling Memorial Library in 1998 by filling in a former outdoor courtyard with a spacious and popular reading space.

What helps make this bridge between Loria and Rudolph so exciting, of course, is the fine work that Gwathmey’s firm did on its restoration of Rudolph Hall. While the Loria Center is a hodgepodge of random shapes, Rudolph Hall was masterfully brought back to its original design. By peeling back the work of several disastrous renovations that followed an unexplained fire in 1969, the restoration shows that the building can be as warm on the inside as it is rough on the outside.

Gwathmey pushed elevators, bathrooms and other service structures into Loria, allowing him to make Rudolph Hall feel open and airy once more. Workers patched and cleaned the corduroy concrete, brought back the expansive windows that make Rudolph Hall a lantern in the nighttime and even returned Rudolph’s psychedelic, paprika carpet.

That bright carpeting is a reminder of a time now past, a time when universities like Yale built buildings with ideas, not just with peculiar shapes. Rudolph Hall is a strong building in every sense, and it is a fitting tribute indeed that not even the new Loria Center can ultimately detract from its integrity.

Comments

  • anon

    never ceases to amaze me when a critic (in any art form) mentions how a work now considered great was initially poorly received, and then in the same breath assures the reader that another work will certainly NEVER be considered anything other than a failure.

  • Anonymous

    well if there's one building that no one will come to love, it's certainly loria…

    at least they painted the walls orange!

  • Anonymous

    isn't the point that beinecke and rudolph are now considered great because they have ideas, while loria will never be considered great because it's just random?

  • wayne

    Loria actually has really great ideas, as explained last night in Peter Eisenman's evening lecture. The ideas aren't the problem. The problem is the execution: poor material selection, boring placement of windows, and uninspiringly composed interior spaces. Gwathmey is a really bright, intelligent guy. I guess he just needs to hire some better people in his office to carry things out a little more successfully.

  • T.R

    Has anyone else notice the amount of Buildings in New Haven from the Brutal period have been redone or at least had windows installed over the past few years in New Haven. I also found it odd that the last nice thing that was ever said about the late New Haven Colisium came from the Dean of the Archicture School housed in a slab of granite.

  • Anonymous

    We live in a strange time where buildings have value because of their history and not because they are innately good. This mindset, called "historicism," was artfully proven fallacious in Bill Westfall's book published by Yale University Press, "Architectural Principles in the Age of Historicism" way back in 1991. Goodness rests in the object, not in the mind of the viewer. Though sometimes the viewer is not ready to appreciate its goodness, what was once bad cannot become good and vice versa. We can only come to understand it better. And if overwrought, architecterium tremens in raw concrete is the best we can do, it is a damning commentary on the civilization of Paul Rudolph. And if the best we can do today is say "it is good because it is of its time" or bow down in its presence with bland chaotic additions, then our era is philosophically bankrupt as well.

  • @ #4

    How can there be ideas in architecture without execution? Isn't that what Eisenman has based his whole career on?

  • Ken McKenna BA '75, PhD '78

    Loria Hall is intentionally and, in my opinion, correctly, designed to defer to and service Rudolf Hall while quietly completing and providing all kinds of support and amenities for Rudolf Hall that it lacks and could not itself include. Loria and Rudolf Halls are like one kind of successful marriage: One hugely aggressive, creative spouse who is dangerously incomplete and a little bit crazy paired with a quiet, apparently prosaically competent spouse who gets the creative one to wear the right clothes for the event, obtains the directions to the event venue and remembers to send the thank you note the very next day. Some people say that such a quiet spouse lacks "ideas," but an awful lot of top quality creative work would go unaccomplished without such people (or, in this case, structures) in the partnership.

    Such unassuming natures often conceal great creativity that happenstance reveals was funtioning there all along, as the old book "Cheaper By The Dozen" reveals, to choose just one of countless examples. Could it be that the reviewer here is not so familiar with such marriages as one might be? Why might that be?

  • Anonymous

    the loria center is totally abominable. WHAT is with that weird window on the second floor??