Our Town: The genius of Paul Rudolph

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Paul Rudolph's vision of beauty

What is the secret to greatness? What is the underlying makeup of the trendsetter, the impact champion, the truly great artist that transforms his field? Is it talent, an early start, good luck, family support, hark work?

Well, one way to find out what makes a genius is to study their work and study their history. As a psychoanalyst, I have been trained to look carefully into a person’s past in order to determine their present behavior.

Wilfred Bion once wrote there is never an overabundance of genius walking about. Bion himself was one of the great psychoanalytic thinkers and he discussed how rare and special the arrival of a genius is and referred to them as mystics. He felt that every field is established and creates rules for itself in preparation for a mystic genius to come along who will then shatter the domain by force of will and talent.

A new field will then be formed which will establish new rules to be followed. This is how any field in science or art is able to grow and Thomas Kuhn’s “The Structure of Scientific Revolution” made the same point.
An example of a mystic genius in sport is Tiger Woods. He was unquestionably a genius at playing golf and thanks to a rare combination of support, an early start, talent, high IQ and hard work he single-handedly transformed golf.

So who can we point to on Long Island that represents genius? Well, there is one I know. His name is Paul Rudolph. I have written about him before. He is the creator of the controversial Endo Pharmaceuticals Building at 1000 Stewart Ave. in Garden City.

This year is the 100th anniversary of his birth and in celebration the Paul Rudolph Heritage Foundation had a reception at his office on 58th Street in Manhattan. Let us spend some time analyzing the work of this mystic genius and exploring what made him tick.

Rudolph was one of the founders of the Brutalist architecture which gained popularity in the 1960s to 1970s and is characterized by an austere style using undressed raw concrete and exposed pipes.

I gained my Ph.D. at SUNY Stony Brook and many of the buildings on campus were built in the Brutalist style. The Pompidou Center in Paris is another example of Brutalism.

So how did Rudolph develop into this strong-willed, unique, unstoppable creative genius? His childhood was spent traveling from town to town thanks to his father’s career as a minister.

He did well in school and graduated from Auburn University with a B.A. in architecture, joined the Navy and went on to earn his Masters from Harvard’s Graduate School of Design. By 40, he was Chairman of Yale University’s Department of Architecture and is now considered to be one of America’s great architects.

The office building he designed and used on 58th Street is all square, geometric, solid and brutal looking from the outside, but filled with light, space and delicate lines on the inside. The contrast is both startling and pleasing at the same time.

This is similar to the impression that his Endo Building gives off in Garden City. The reason the Endo Building was so controversial was that it looked so squat and raw with its use of concrete ribbing on the outside.

But upon closer inspection, you notice its curved and gentle stairway that welcomes you inside and when you enter you see lush orange carpeting, curved walls and huge windows letting in sunlight.

There is a documentary of his life entitled “Spaces: The Architecture of Paul Rudolph,” which proves to be enlightening. In it, you see him stubbornly sticking to his own vision of rounded curves as the owners who commissioned him to do a building argue for rectangular shapes.

Here you can see that Rudolph was more of an artist then a builder by fighting for exact pure control over his work. This is exactly the way Michael Jackson worked and how Madonna works to this day. They want and insist on total control over their vision. Of course they are right. The genius knows best.

It is a joy to discover the work of genius and we are lucky to have the product of a genius here in Nassau County. If you want to learn more about Paul Rudolph you can go to another of his shows called “The Hong Kong Journey” at the Center for Architecture in Manhattan until March 9.

The mind of a genius is one of purity of vision and joy and a belief in themselves and what they want to see.

They are the magic that keeps our culture growing and they are culture’s greatest gift. Gertrude Stein once asked, “What are masterpieces and why are there so few of them?” No one knows the answer to that, but it is very easy to recognize one when you see it. Thank you Paul Rudolph for giving us all your masterful vision of beauty.

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