Mr. Rudolph goes to Washington


Paul Rudolph, master of a beguilingly baroque brutalism, had a few ideas to fix up what he thought was DC’s unrelenting dullness. Riffing off of President Kennedy’s dismay at Pennsylvania Avenue, the fervor for urban renewal, and a widespread disdain for the newest batch of public buildings, Architecture Forum magazine dedicated its entire January 1963 issue to the problem of Washington. It’s a neat time capsule.

Anyway, you, me, and your mother all have ideas to fix up this city, and thankfully nobody asks us. So why did Rudolph get to publish what are basically a few sketches and a rant? Well, he was killing it in 1963. He was published widely, the Yale Art and Architecture Building was nearing completion, he’d just secured the Boston Government Services Center, and no one else seemed to have a way out of Modernism’s increasing malaise.

So, what he proposed was a way of shaping cities straight out of the book The American Vitruvius: An Architect’s Handbook of Civic Art, which was a strong influence on city planning in the 1920s, and eventually New Urbanism. That book and Rudolph’s show the influence of a Viennese theorist named Camillo Sitte.

Sitte thought that public areas needed to be shaped aesthetically into coherent fabric for public life. He favored curving roads that were as pleasant to the eye as hard on the brakes. He also belief that large open spaces were hostile to life, an unpopular idea when Le Corbusier’s violent reaction to Sitte dominated the profession.

So, Rudolph is rebelling when he proposes taming the vast expanses of the McMillan Plan and the Olmsted landscapes. He even takes a moment to lash out against the Robert Taft Carillon’s expansive space, a which must have been deliberate diss to its designer, the then-Commission of Fine Arts vice chair Douglas Orr.

Rudolph’s design surrounds the tower with another building, to plug the grassy areas near Union Station, which he thought was particularly vacant. He proposed two columnar entries on Maryland and Pennsylvania Avenues as memorials to Madison and FDR. Elsewhere bar buildings span roadways to divvy up the leftover spaces into public rooms.

Yes, he wanted to block some viewsheds, but he also wanted to restore the proportions of L’Enfant’s vision for the east plaza. Like anyone trying to make big moves in DC, Paul Rudolph swore that it was his design, and no other that would realize L’Enfant’s vision.

Rudolph’s full article after the break.

See Toyo Ito speak at the NBM


I think it’s worth the time of every Washingtonian who thinks they know what’s up in architecture to hear Toyo Ito speak at the National Building Museum. Ito won the 2013 Pritzker Prize, and has produced some pretty astonishing buildings, most notably the Taichung Opera House, sponge-like chunk of an infinite minimal surface algorithmically drawn around the program. Were it not for a few doors, the building would be two separate spaces, absolutely enmeshed in each other. Even with the breaks, the surface segregates spaces so that there’s neither figure nor ground and there is no evidence for the other mirror-image space. There’s a similar manipulation of space in the unbuilt Berkeley Art Museum.


The Meiso no Mori funeral hall  (above) was a point of departure for one of my projects, along with other projects by Ito, Akihisa Hirata, SANAA, and Junya Ishigami’s KAIT workshop.  Their buildings precisely emulate natural phenomena with a spare aesthetic. Their anti-iconic and open-ended spaces they produce are a nice respite from DC’s inclination.

Wednesday, October 16th, 6:30PM. National Building Museum. Judiciary Square Metro. 

Eisenman/Robertson: The Odd Couple

It’s vacation time around here, and that gets us thinking about the olden days. So let’s take a trip back to the time when the leading proponent of deconstruction in architecture and the Dreihaus Prize-winning designer of Celebration, Florida once worked together. Happy holidays!

Good Architects: McInturff Architects


To make an unwarranted generalization, DC architects like their buildings heavy and somber. Even in the recent fad of light and clean glass facades, the buildings have been rather self-serious and blockish looking, a consequence of clients demanding efficient floorplans from architects who themselves were trying to be cool and modern without upsetting the polished and poised look DC has in the collective consciousness and legal structure. This fretful indecision can be a bit like the jeans and sportcoat look – crisp but comfortable, hip but conservative.

McInturff Architects offer a wholly different approach. They’re (post)modern(ist) but a little witty and also aiming for comfort. Their mostly residential oevure consists of excellently-composed buildings that respond coyly to the conditions of the site. In doing so, it avoids falling into limpid styles while also carefully respecting historic and distinctive architecture elsewhere. As for aesthetics, the practice cleverly contrasts gentle and warm elements with bold minimalism in beautiful light-filled spaces. As their projects are primarily private, it’s trickier to see their work than Esocoff & Associates‘. But down in Georgetown, anyone can at least see three buildings, and go into one of those.