In my second year of architecture school, I was first exposed to Paul Rudolph’s architecture with a bang. We took a tour of his Beekman Place townhouse, which has been on and off the market in recent years. What stuck with me immediately was his playful manipulation of space. Grand openness with slippages away into cozy, almost secret corners and rooms, made the tour of the house feel like an architectural adventure. Later that year we visited the Yale campus with all its architectural marvels - Louis Kahn’s British Art Museum which moved me beyond words with his peaceful treatment of light; SOM’s Beinecke Rare Book Library with its marble facade letting a dull shade of light into its cube shape; and Rudolph’s Architecture School building, which felt like a treatise on playfulness and danger. Playful is always the first word I associate with Rudolph’s work.
While Beekman is not open to the public and university buildings only open to students, the Modulightor House is a nearby and accesible Rudolph project. I visited the Modulightor House and fell in love all over again with his work. My tour guide, Seth Weine, gave me a tour filled with stories on how Rudolph designed and built this townhouse that is like no other.
The Paul Rudolph Centennial Exhibition has been extended till December 30th.
The Paul Rudolph Heritage Foundation is now offering guided tours of a new exhibition highlighting Rudolph's prolific career as well as his residential duplex in the Modulightor Building.
To schedule a tour with a member of the Foundation, please contact them at firstname.lastname@example.org or at (212) 371-0336. More information can be found at paulrudolphheritagefoundation.org
The Modulightor House is named after the custom lighting company that Rudolph and Ernst Wagner founded. On the ground floor is a lighting showroom and below ground are the prototyping shops.
Rudolph used the construction site as a full scale design model for experimentation and refinement. During construction, he would bring sheets of foam board and would cut and move them around till finding the arrangement he liked. Can you picture him doing that in this space to the right?
Danger. Not a word that comes to mind with many great works of architecture. For me it is an integral part of Rudolph’s work. So much of it comes down to proportion and placement; impossibly slender structural members, windows at your ankles. Delicacy and danger work together to heighten awareness. As you notice the stair tread as slim as the nearby bookshelves, do you walk lighter? Does the interplay of structure, stair, and built in furniture alter your perception of any one, or all? Walking through the space is an unfolding experience. If someone called out asking where you were, would you say “I’m on the second floor?” Or, “I’m on the platform looking out over the big sofa?” I think that’s part of the intention here, for the inhabitants to feel and notice where they are in a more meaningful way. Yogis chime in about awareness and intentionality. Somehow I don’t picture Mr. Rudolph practicing yoga but you never know.
Just about any photo from any angle will include artworks, tools, and everyday objects of interest that Rudolph and Wagner collected in their travels. The house has also been utilized many times for fashion shoots.
The artwork, planting, and full wall bookshelves enliven the house and remind you, that yes, you are touring a home and not a frozen architectural landmark.
If you are in New York, I recommend taking advantage of the extended exhibition happening now for a guided tour of the Modulightor building. It is an architectural treat!