I see in today’s New York Times that Boston is thinking of demolishing a 13 story building by Paul Rudolph to make way for an 80 story skyscraper by Renzo Piano.
Rudolph, who died ten years ago, wasn’t always the easiest architect to love. (What can you expect when you make your name in a style called “Brutalism”?) All the same, at times he coaxed some wonderful results out of all that forbidding concrete. Taking lessons from the thrusting planes of Frank Lloyd Wright and the power of Le Corbusier’s later work, he found ingenious ways to express a building’s structure. But lately he seems to have become a state of the art wrecking-ball magnet. Two Rudolph-designed houses were demolished in recent years, one of them just two months ago in Westport, Conn.
And Riverview High School in Sarasota, Fla., the city where Rudolph started his career in the 1940s and ’50s, is now in danger of being sacrificed for a parking lot.
The mid-century Modernists could be pretty dry eyed themselves when it came to tearing down earlier work to make way for their own. Rudolph once even proposed a mammoth structure in lower Manhattan that would have pretty much wiped out SoHo. It took a while for the Modernists to accept the idea of preservation. And now when it comes to their own work, it looks like the lessons need to be learned all over again.
One other thing. Supposedly Rudolph’s Boston building has to go to make room for a public plaza as part of the project that Piano is designing. But — golly — I notice that in the Times story today Piano also mentions that he’s under pressure from the developer to widen the proposed tower. If the Rudolph goes, let’s see how much space “the public” — that would be you and me and everybody else who isn’t getting a cut of the rents — actually gains in the end.