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april 1998
ashes to ashesPaul Rudolph's ashes

Paul Rudolph's ashes-- used in The Ventilator Project by MIT- based artist, Mark Bain.
(courtesy Mark Bain)

MIT-based artist Mark Bain, who describes himself as an "anti-architect," tracked down Rudolph's ashes (which had been divided between two friends) and released them into the A+A Building as part of what he called his Ventilator Project.

by Philp Nobel

The late architect Paul Rudolph's career was dogged by fire. On Bastille Day, 1969, his Art and Architecture Building at Yale was torched by angry students. The fire was set to protest university policies, but it was widely seen as a reaction to the oppressive nature of the building itself. Whatever the reason, the incident marked the beginning of Paul Rudolph's public fall from grace.

The story of that fire became a favorite bit of architectural lore, but another remains more obscure. In the early Seventies, shortly after the opening of Rudolph's Lindemann Mental Health Center in downtown Boston, a patient responded to the swirling Corbusian forms in the building's chapel by igniting himself beneath a light-cannon on the crude slab altar. The room has been sealed ever since.

Now Rudolph's own ashes are adrift. Last year, on November 1 (the Day of the Dead), eight ounces of Rudolph's cremated remains were released into the A+A Building's ventilation system by an artist hoping to "add a coda to the building and the man who built it." No memorial could be more appropriate. Rudolph was always personally linked with the glowering A+A Building. In 1964, the year it was completed, Progressive Architecture magazine ran a cover photo of the building with a ghostly superimposition of Rudolph's crew-cut head. At the time, one critic wrote that it was "disquieting" that Rudolph had "inserted himself so ruthlessly into his work." But after the fire and the insensitive renovation that followed, Rudolph separated himself from it, claiming that "the building no longer exists for me."

In the decades that stretched from the fire to his death from lung cancer last August, Rudolph was revered by an influential group of colleagues, fans, and former students, but he was considered almost untouchable by others. He did run part of the victory lap enjoyed by aging masters--in 1993, critic Michael Sorkin preemptively eulogized him in verse in the first issue of ANY magazine, and the Cooper-Hewitt Museum put on a one-man show--but he was taboo in the design studio and was seldom invited to contribute to publications or public events organized by those beyond his immediate circle. Arguably the most talented architect of his generation, Rudolph would lurk in the back of lecture halls and sneak out before he was seen.

The simmering revival is likely to heat up now. Following Rudolph's death there was a predictable outpouring of appreciation. His papers are headed to the Library of Congress, and two books are in the works.

But while others planned a critical resurrection, MIT-based artist Mark Bain took more direct action. Bain, who describes himself as an "anti-architect," tracked down Rudolph's ashes (which had been divided between two friends) and released them into the A+A Building as part of what he called his Ventilator Project. The materials list for the project reads, in part: "ventilation duct, electronics, and portion of the architect Paul Rudolph's cremated remains." Bain is quiet about his intentions; he says only that he wanted to "dust the interior with a symbolic residue of the architect." Now we can all breathe deep: Paul Rudolph's demons are sleeping.

Paul Rudolph, Yale, brutalism

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