In 2007, Chris Mottalini received a call from the Paul Rudolph Foundation, asking if he would photograph the architect's 1972 Micheels House, which was in danger of being demolished. Mottalini, who grew up in Buffalo, New York, knew of Rudolph's concrete modernist structures before, but it wasn't until he went to Westport, Connecticut, and stepped foot in that crumbling cantilevered home that the photographer fell in love with Rudolph's work.
"I just became kind of fascinated with the house," recalls Mottalini over the phone. "The feel of the house, the style, [Rudolph's] personality. Just being able to witness the house in that state ... it just talked to me emotionally, photographically, all that stuff." The experience led Mottalini to ask the foundation for help gaining access to photograph other Rudolph homes that were in jeopardy, "as well as a bunch of his other houses that I was interested in photographing," he adds.
The Micheels House, 1972-2007
In all, Mottalini has photographed some 30 of Rudolph's houses—three of which have since faced the wrecking ball: the Micheels House, the Cerrito House (in Watch Hill, Rhode Island), and the Twitchell House in Siesta Key, Florida. Those now-demolished houses are the subject of Mottalini's new, haunting book of photographs, After You Left, They Took It Apart: Demolished Paul Rudolph Homes (Columbia College Chicago Press), as well as an accompanying exhibition at Los Angeles' Reform Gallery through November 30.
Details from the Micheels House
These elegiac photographs of broken windows, stained carpets, ripped up panels, and crumbling foundations not only present the complications of preservation, but they also (more interestingly) offer an alternative view of Rudolph's work. These photographs show Rudolph's softer side, as opposed to the imposing, monumental forms that characterize the architect's most famous, and polarizing, projects: the Brutalist Orange County Government Center, for example, which narrowly avoided demolition last year, or his Art and Architecture Building at Yale, where he served as dean of architecture school.
"You know, I think Rudoph always seems to get the Brutalist label, and while that's the case in a lot of his larger buildings, I don’t think any of his homes or residential projects [fall under that category]," says Mottalini. "Like if you look at the house that was demolished in Rhode Island—the Cerrito House—it's like a cottage." Indeed, these buildings look more open and inviting; they're intimate and vulnerable.
The Cerrito House in Rhode Island, 1956 - 2007
Part of that disarming quality comes from the buildings being actual homes, where families once lived and fought and played and loved. And part of the photographs' power—aside from their unflinching glance and attention to Rudolph's masterful manipulation of light—comes from the emotional attachment we feel with the spaces we've inhabited throughout the years. It's like stumbling across your childhood home and realizing it's been altered beyond repair, or driving past your grandparents' old home and see its windows busted and its yard overrun with weeds. Witnessing these photos, you feel the loss of a dear, beloved friend.
The Twitchell House, in Florida, 1941-2007
"A lot of people who have liked [the photos] don't even know about architecture or Paul Rudolph or anything like that, but the project struck a direct chord with them," says Mottalini. "And you know, I definitely appreciate that more in a way—take it out of the modernist architecture clique or club. ... You don’t have to know what brutalism is to feel some kind of emotion seeing some of those photos."