Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Ginsu Rudolph

So another Paul Rudolph house is threatened with demolition. The owners still claim to love it, but it's just not big enough for them any more. Apparently they've gotten much larger over the years. But this time, two men come to the rescue, cutting it precisely in half, trimming off three inches so it will fit on some trucks and removing it from its beachfront location to some ex- summer camp in the mountains.

Now, there are lots of sides to take in this story, from a simple congratulatory stance to disappointment to appreciation of the surreality of making a building exactly three inches shorter and completely removing it from context. These are all valid positions and emotions, but what each instance of this kind of story brings up to me is what provides the value in residential architecture. Many famous residential structures were never homes to begin with-- they were "pavilions." And other ones (the Glass House, pretty much everything by Corbusier) now exist mainly as an odd combination of personal monument, history museum, and technological archive. But what about those famous homes that people stubbornly insist on still using as domiciles? Aren't they producing their own kind of domestic value? If a famous house becomes a museum, has it succeeded or failed?

Rudolph, like Lautner, is a good test case for this stuff because, in the midst of the architectural expression, all of this complex geometry and rhythm of line, there was a genuine interest in the domesticity of the space itself. Rudolph himself once said that a famous tensioned-roof lakehouse he designed was a failure because the reverse bow to the roof made the spaces look outward, and houses should always look in on themselves, on the hearth. I don't want to sound too nostalgic here, but what paradigm-defining offices operating today are trying to simultaneously push the boundaries of practice while also developing and satisfying a genuine interest in the lives and home-spaces of their clients? I kind of feel that at some point, while being taught the history of modern architecture through the Villa, we forgot that people used to live in these houses.

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