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Rudolph Spotted Around Boston

Rudolph is no stranger to Boston and New England. He’s been spotted in Dartmouth, New Haven, Wellesley, and three separate locations in Boston proper. He even went to school here and studied at Harvard under Walter Gropius and other preeminent 20th-century architects including I.M. Pei, Philip Johnson, and Marcel Breuer, to name a few. 

That’s right, we’re talking about Paul Rudolph, one of the most influential architects in modern Boston. Who did you think we were talking about?

Boston’s Three Rudolph Buildings:

Rudolph’s career flourished in the 1950s and 60s, beginning with a series of houses and schools in Florida, and later encompassing several prominent institutional projects around the country. Several architectural critics pinpoint two of his Boston projects as his best work of this period. The first being the Blue Cross/Blue Shield building at 133 Federal Street. It was completed in 1961 and is credited as the first major modernist office building in Boston. (Perhaps it inspired Walter Gropius’s JFK Building near City Hall?)

Blue Cross/Blue Shield, 1961

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In an era of glass curtain walls, Rudolph chose to use his signature concrete in a building that ushered Boston into the 20th-century. When it was completed, nothing of note had been built in Boston’s downtown in decades. Now why concrete over glass? Rudolph was constantly concerned with the scale of a building—the scale to humans, to the streetscape, and to the city. Boston is a masonry city and glass boxes look odd in a masonry environment. Plus he believed that building facades that dance with light and shadow are more interesting than buildings that are all reflection. 133 Federal was threatened in 2007 when a tower was first proposed to replace the the Winthrop Square garage and include this site in the project. That effort faded but when redevelopment there heated up in 2014 one proposal threatened again, but ultimately was not chosen. Recently, the facade acted as a canvas for the art piece “Brutal Daydream” by Sosolimited

 

Government Services Center, 1971

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The second notable Rudolph building is the Government Services Center. It, along with Boston’s City Hall, are global icons of the Brutalist (Heroic) architecture style. 

 

First, some context for the buildings. Parts of downtown and the West End were razed in the late 1950s when Boston was in a deep economic slump with a rapidly decreasing population. The flawed idea was to help rejuvenate the city through investment, starting with government facilities, and to create a new concept of centralized local government. Essentially, a void was left in the city and Rudolph was picked to fill it. In Rudolph’s own words, “Too many specialists and bureaucrats with overlapping authority created a vacuum which left the way open for an idea.”

 

The complex stretches a third of a mile and is easily identifiable as a Rudolph design by his trademark corduroy concrete. The eye cascades along the facade as light and shadow waltz down the block and concrete curves around the corner. Only two of the three buildings were completed, with Rudolph as the coordinating architect for the whole complex and the lead architect for the Lindemann. The unbuilt portion was a tower meant to announce the development from a distance and create the central point of a spiraling conch shell. The center follows the contour of Boston’s charmingly-shaped street pattern, with taller facades facing the street to scale with the automobile, and stepping down to a single-story in the pedestrian courtyard, to scale with humans. 

Government Services Paul Rudolph

First Church, 1972

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Sitting in the Back Bay at 66 Marlborough Street is a third Rudolph building. It’s a concrete work of art hidden amongst the brownstones. This church was originally built in 1867 but was mostly destroyed by a fire in 1968. Rudolph was selected by the parishioners to rebuild the church. His redesign preserved the puddingstone tower and east wall. Rudolph was regularly inspired by Frank Lloyd Wright and called the Rosenbaum House “one of the most sublime spaces in American architecture.” This influence is clear the moment you walk into the First Church. The lounge looks like it could be a Wright living room, and his corduroy concrete guides the eyes to the heavens in what Rudolph referred to as a “great kaleidoscope for light.” The church congregation has painstakingly reproduced the original Rudolph red and purple textiles on curtains and furnishings.

Other sightings of Rudolph can be spotted at the UMass Dartmouth Campus (his largest project in North America), Wellesley College’s Jewett Arts Center, and the Yale Art and Architecture Building. 

It appears that Rudolph really can be spotted around the world in a single day. 

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