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.
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.