Kahn vs. Rudolph

Yale University is home to buildings by many notable Modern architects — there is a science building by Philip Johnson, two residential colleges and a hockey rink by Eero Saarinen, the Center for British Art and the Art Gallery by Louis Kahn, and the Art & Architecture Building by Paul Rudolph. The latter two are in fact directly across the street from each other, and the result is quite interesting.

On the left, Kahn’s Gallery, from the Art & Architecture Building, and on the right, the Art & Architecture Building, from the street.

More after the break.

During the 1960s and early 1970s, Rudolph and Kahn were two of American’s most important architects. The Art Gallery, one of Kahn first buildings, was completed in 1953 and was an addition to a 1928 Romanesque gallery building. The Art & Architecture Building across the way, was completed 10 years later. Both buildings have become quite notable, and both have recently undergone major restorations, the Gallery by Polshek Partnership (now Ennead Architects) and the AA Building by the recently deceased Charles Gwathmey, one of Rudolph’s successful students.

The contrast between the two is telling. Kahn’s building, a simple, elegant brick rectangle with a glass wall facing the AA Building, is subdued and quiet, with a tucked away entrance and a relatively deferential stance to the original Gallery building. On the interior, more of Kahn’s trademark materiality and geometry show through. The ceiling’s triangular concrete pan pattern is striking, and an open, triangular staircase at the building’s heart adds some drama to moving between levels.

Rudolph’s building, on the other hand, with its uniquely patterned exterior concrete, cantilevers and alcoves, makes a powerful, aggressive spatial statement at first sight. Its interior continues with the same themes — incredibly complex spaces, tough materials, and constant play between light and shadow. It’s a great building with an unfortunate history: despite drawing initial praise from critics, the building infuriated many who perceived it as either to Kahn’s masterpiece and much of the rest of Yale’s campus. Recently the building has begun to come back into style —  the $125 million addition and renovation by Charles Gwathmey is the most concrete (if you’ll excuse the pun) embodiment of that, though Gwathmey’s addition is not nearly as good as his restoration. There’s a great Nicolai Ouroussoff article on the topic.

The street corner where Kahn and Rudolph face off, or converse jovially, depending on how you see it, is quite a place to be. Both buildings are great, and both respect their context (despite what people will say). Both house their respective functions in clever and interesting ways, and both add something signficant to Yale generally overbearing, Gothic campus.

The dialogue between the buildings is also of great interest. Rudolph pays homage to Kahn with a frontal set-back reminiscent of Kahn’s sunken courtyard and massive windows that elegantly frame views of Kahn’s own glass wall across the way. But even so, to my eye it looks like Kahn has the upper hand. His building doesn’t aim for the same complexity that Rudolph’s does, but wisely so — Rudolph’s building looks slightly nervous by comparison. It’s not so much that Rudolph’s ideas about complex spaces are inferior, per say, to Kahn’s search for a Modern monumentality, but that in this case Kahn’s building is more grounded and more at home with itself.

Regardless, these are both great buildings, and well worth checking out. Plus, until May 6 in the Art & Architecture Building, there is a highly interesting Kevin Roche exhibition!

Note: photographs on this post are courtesy of Google Images

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One thought on “Kahn vs. Rudolph

  1. […] in 1963 and stands to this day as a testament to the power of modern architecture post-1960 (see this post). Robert Venturi, whose postmodern theories certainly did transform architecture, would be the […]

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