The Ruins of Paul Rudolph’s Architecture

The hardworking staff has long admired the architectural work of Paul Rudolph, especially his Blue Cross Blue Shield building at 133 Federal Street in Boston. (Our 2008 WGBH commentary here.)

But not everyone does.

So we read with interest in the current New York Review of Books Martin Filler’s piece about Rudolph’s shattered legacy.

Among the most acclaimed mid-twentieth- century American architects, none experienced a more precipitous reversal of fortune than Paul Rudolph.

That reversal was caused mostly by Rudolph’s inflexibility and extreme eccentricity (see Yale’s Art & Architecture Building for further details), as Filler chronicled in his review of these two books:

The Architecture of Paul Rudolph
by Timothy M. Rohan
Yale University Press, 290 pp., $65.00

After You Left/They Took It Apart (Demolished Paul Rudolph Homes)
by Chris Mottalini
Columbia College Chicago Press, 71 pp., $50.00

We especially noted this Boston connection in Filler’s review:

The press lauded Rudolph’s increasingly bombastic institutional schemes, epitomized by his eerily cavernous, crushingly heavy Government Service Center in Boston of 1962–1971—a fortress-like complex with a swirling, multilevel interior that brings to mind the inner ear of some Brobdingnagian creature. The lack of critical analysis such overbearing works received at the time is doubtless attributable to the friendships Rudolph cultivated with editors and critics.


Said fortress-like complex:




Later in his piece, Filler laments one omission in Timothy Rohan’s otherwise “excellent new monograph.”

I was very sorry to find missing from The Architecture of Paul Rudolph what I consider to be his finest work, the Tuskegee University Chapel of 1960–1969 at the historically black college in Tuskegee, Alabama. Rohan says he omitted it for reasons of space, although I can think of no better evidence in support of higher regard for his subject.

Said chapel:




As for the hardworking staff, we were very sorry to find missing from Martin Filler’s piece what we consider to be one of Rudolph’s most appealing works, 133 Federal Street.




Regardless, Paul Rudolph left a legacy in concrete that we demolish to our own detriment. At least for now, it looks like 133 Federal will survive, as long as developer Steve Belkin keeps his word.

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14 Responses to The Ruins of Paul Rudolph’s Architecture

  1. Bill says:

    Sorry, none of those examples resonate here. Even 133 Federal looks like a cheap attempt to gussy-up a storage facility or police command post. No “style” in any of those, IMO. We’ll have to agree to disagree.

  2. Consider all the things we agree on!

  3. George Smart says:

    You can see all of Rudolph’s residential work at

    • Campaign Outsider says:

      Thanks, George.

    • Curmudgeon says:

      Broken link, George.

    • Curmudgeon says:

      Let me put this as nicely as I can.

      They remind me of the high school in the town in which I grew up…

      It was ugly the day the ground was broken for construction, and it got worse from there.

      • George Smart says:

        Mudge, Modernism isn’t for everyone. So if you hated them then, and you also hate them now, that’s ok.

      • Curmudgeon says:

        It’s not modernism that is the problem. There are fine examples of it. From the picture, even Rudolph’s church has a certain amount of grace. But most of his work appears crude and formulaic.

        The problem is in the execution of the modernist principles. The margin for error is slight, and there are many modernist buildings that err from designs based on egos rather than pleasing and functional design.

        The same accusation can be made against post-modernist architecture, too, failing attempts to dress-up what otherwise would be relatively commonplace buildings into something that they could never be.

  4. Curmudgeon says:

    Are you starting a movement called “Save the Gulag”, John.

    And I thought your sense of style had a touch more grace to it.

  5. Al says:

    Any review of Paul Rudolph’s work should consider the core of the campus of UMass Dartmouth, designed and built in the late 60s to early 70s when the school was known as Southeastern Massachusetts Technological Institute (SMTI).

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