The chapels at Tuskegee University and Emory University are among the most inventive—and least known—works of the American modernist architect Paul Rudolph (1918–97). In Paul Rudolph and the Psychology of Space: The Tuskegee and Emory University Chapels, Karla Cavarra Britton and Daniel Ledford analyze these buildings as significant exemplars of the postwar American university chapel, finding them subject to three seminal influences in Rudolph's life: his childhood experience of Southern Methodism, his encounters with the architecture of Frank Lloyd Wright, and his admiration for Le Corbusier's religious works. The chapels evoke powerful aesthetic and emotive experiences in their audiences, reflecting Rudolph's ambition that architecture should be grounded in a “psychology of space.” The Tuskegee Chapel, designed at the apex of Rudolph's career (1960–69), engages the university's African American musical and educational legacy. The Cannon Chapel at Emory, meanwhile, built late in Rudolph's professional life (1975–81) as a multiuse space for the university's school of theology, exhibits a contrasting pattern of complexity and intransigence.
The University Chapel and Modern Architecture
The chapels at Tuskegee University and Emory University are among the most daring and inventive—and least known—works of the American modernist architect Paul Rudolph (1918–97).1 The Tuskegee Chapel was built between 1959 and 1969, at the apex of Rudolph's career, and the Cannon Chapel at Emory was constructed between 1975 and 1981, when his practice was waning (Figures 1 and 2). To encounter these two highly distinctive buildings is to engage not only the powerful aesthetic experiences they evoke but also the impact they have had on the institutional identities and pedagogical directions of their respective schools. The architecture of Rudolph's university chapels represents his commitment to what he called “the psychology of space,” exemplified by these chapels’ ability to embody the communal moral imaginations of their institutions while also fostering relationships between individuals and the larger academic community of which they are a part.
Evident in Rudolph's designs for these chapels are three formative factors in his life that he identified in various personal reminiscences: his experience as a youth of the “weekly revivals” he attended in the company of his father, a Southern Methodist preacher; his lifelong fascination with the architecture of Frank Lloyd Wright; and the inspiration he drew from the architecture of Le Corbusier. These influences are connected in many ways, and they are important touchstones for reading Rudolph's designs for his university chapel buildings, as well as for opening up fresh approaches to understanding the aesthetic effect and intellectual rigor of his work as a whole.
Given the aesthetic and symbolic richness of Rudolph's university chapels, it is curious that they have been largely overlooked within studies of his work and in the historiography of modern architecture in general.2 This may be due in part to the ways in which these buildings deviate from the Brutalism of his better-known designs, such as the Art and Architecture building at Yale University (1958–63, now Rudolph Hall) and the Government Service Center in Boston (1962–71). Works such as these emphatically celebrate the rough and raw materiality of concrete in ways that are foreign to the chapels. The lacuna may also reflect a larger reticence among historians and critics to engage religious buildings when studying modernism within professional schools of architecture—a wariness that has only recently begun to recede.3 Yet the chapels at Tuskegee and Emory are significant reworkings of two earlier iconic modernist religious structures: in the case of Tuskegee, Le Corbusier's Notre Dame du Haut de Ronchamp (1955), and at Emory, Wright's Unity Temple in Oak Park, Illinois (1908).
As a genre, the American university chapel after World War II tells an important story of how religion was perceived and projected societally on the campuses of both private and public institutions. As a modern type, such buildings became a focus for many prominent architects. Examples include Ludwig Mies van der Rohe's Chapel of St. Savior at the Illinois Institute of Technology (1952), the set of three chapels at Brandeis University—Jewish, Catholic, and Protestant—by Harrison & Abramovitz (1955), Eero Saarinen's interdenominational chapel at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (1955), the interreligious Cadet Chapel by Walter Netsch at the U.S. Air Force Academy (1962), Charles Edward Stade's Memorial Chapel at the Lutheran-affiliated Valparaiso University (1959), and the extensive network of chapels funded by the Danforth Foundation.4 Yet while such chapels were widely built, this same period also saw a decline in the prominence of religious life at many educational institutions, even as some college and university chaplains, such as Yale's William Sloan Coffin Jr., became powerful voices in the public square, especially during the civil rights and anti–Vietnam War movements. Rudolph was undoubtedly aware of the social and educational significance of the chapels at Tuskegee and Emory, especially given his experience as dean of architecture at Yale. Far from being marginalized on their campuses, the chapels at Tuskegee and Emory were intended to be at the heart of their institutions’ respective lives. Their designs are significant for the ways in which Rudolph drew upon his background to engage and navigate the highly symbolic role of the American university chapel. The success of Rudolph's vision for the chapels is evidenced by the fact that both remain in use today for the purposes for which they were conceived.
Moreover, religious structures were a significant part of Rudolph's oeuvre; he designed ten such buildings—six of which were built—including churches and chapels for several different Christian denominations and two Jewish synagogue additions.5 Among these, the Tuskegee and Emory chapels stand out as unique, in that they are the most complex statements of Rudolph's ideas about religious architecture, related less to his secular buildings than to the specific historical precedents that lay behind them. Together they represent a notable advancement of the religious building type, even while leading toward a certain “lateness of style” in Rudolph's mannerist treatment of the Emory Chapel. Indeed, one of the principal observations to be drawn from a comparison of these works involves the contrast between the confidence Rudolph showed at Tuskegee and the eccentricity into which he moved at Emory. In the later building, Rudolph's architecture became, as architectural critic Paul Goldberger has put it, “almost arrogantly unconventional,” adding a distinctive dimension to the history of midcentury American modernism.6
Perhaps most significant is how Rudolph, through his well-known psychological finesse, built into both of these chapels powerful expressions of institutional identity, with specific reference to the communal demands on the spaces and the public histories that lay behind them. Entering either of these chapels, one feels a great sense of expectancy that something of vital importance to the present-day community happens there, and that the building transcends its material form to speak of a specific type of purposeful communal gathering. Yet the risks that Rudolph took in the designs of these chapels also challenge their communities toward further spiritual, cultural, and intellectual development. By definition, transcendence lies at the heart of religious architecture; in a university chapel the experience of such transcendence depends not only on architectural materiality or the cognitive and emotional aspects of worship but also on the building's connection to the educational ethos of the school. Within their respective settings, the chapels at Tuskegee and Emory provide for this range of experience—musically, visually, oratorically, and emotively. They thereby expand upon and elaborate in fresh ways Rudolph's conviction about the “psychology of space”: that architecture is fundamentally about “enclosed voids to accommodate human beings in the totality of their psychic and physical life and in their various pursuits and intentions.”7
Formative Influences: Southern Methodism and Frank Lloyd Wright
Rudolph was born in 1918 in Elkton, Kentucky, where the ethos of Southern Methodism shaped the household of his parents, Keener L. and Eurye Stone Rudolph. Paul was shy about his Methodist roots, perhaps in part because he was gay, yet he recognized his indebtedness to them. He did not want to be “sentimental,” but while working on the Cannon Chapel he often talked about having grown up in churches.8 Standing in the pulpit, Rudolph's father appeared to his son to be an “archetype” of the southern preacher. As a child, Paul learned to play both piano and organ, and he later served as a church organist during college, where he developed his appreciation of the musical dimension of worship. This musical foundation would eventually be a primary source for his designs of both the Tuskegee and Emory chapels.
The Southern Methodism of Rudolph's childhood was characterized by an emphasis on personal conversion and the emotive potential of worship, especially through hymnody. Wesleyan hymns are unmistakably at the heart of Methodist worship, and one can only speculate about the effect on Rudolph of such evocative lyrics as those of the hymn “And Can It Be That I Should Gain,” where the congregants sing, “I woke, the dungeon flamed with light; / My chains fell off, my heart was free; / I rose, went forth, and followed thee.” The intimacy of the small Methodist churches in which Rudolph grew up might well have given him an appreciation for the importance of architecture as a place of gathering and musical expression. The Methodist emphasis on a sense of solidarity in community, and the impact of community on personal formation, is a theme underscored time and again in the interiors of Rudolph's architecture, most famously in the Art and Architecture building at Yale, with its unifying central atrium surrounded by multiple studio levels affording views of activity throughout the building. In this regard, the A&A is often compared to Frank Lloyd Wright's 1904 Larkin Building. But it is in how Rudolph's building “engender[s] a big, embracing community of vibrant souls” (as New York Times critic Nicolai Ouroussoff put it) that it most closely aligns with Wright's own description of the Larkin Building as “a genuine expression of power directly applied to purpose.”9
The links between Rudolph and Wright are not merely circumstantial.10 As early as 1960, historian Peter Collins was drawing a line between Wright and Rudolph—not only in the formal dimensions of their architecture but also in their childhood formation and upbringing.11 Like Rudolph, Wright was the son of a minister, shaped in his case by his Unitarian origins, just as Rudolph was conditioned by his own Methodist roots. Rudolph recalled his life-changing discovery as a young man of Wright's Rosenbaum House in Florence, Alabama, the first “modern structure” that he had seen.12 He later spoke of his indebtedness to Wright and said that “if not misunderstood, [then] at least the implications of [Wright's] work have not even begun to be explored.”13
Most important, what Rudolph found in Wright's architecture were the factors that determined the psychological impact of a building. Rudolph developed a broad understanding of the emotional dimensions of architecture, which had multiple resonances for him and included such themes as monumentality and communal gathering. As he stated in his “Six Determinants of Architectural Form,” “The goal of architecture is to seek a richer architectural expression” through attention to the “peculiar psychological demands of the building or place.”14 What Rudolph absorbed from Wright's architecture was nothing less than the means to manipulate the observer's psychological response to a building. He achieved this manipulation through strategies such as the compression and release of space and the movement from dark to light experienced during the progression from one interior volume to another. For Rudolph, materials were less important than this sensation of movement effected by a building's spatial sequencing. He described this psychospatial progression in architecture as being like the act of memorizing or recalling music, where one remembers an introductory theme of a great symphony as it is developed and elaborated: like music, “architectural themes are experienced throughout the space from within.”15 Rudolph carried the lessons he learned from Wright into his advocacy for architecture as a visual and “highly emotional affair,” the impulse that came to shape his response to the challenges of his two university chapels.16
“The Highest Spiritual Qualities”: Tuskegee University Chapel
It is difficult to imagine a more forceful religious design in postwar America than Rudolph's interdenominational chapel at Tuskegee University, the historically black college founded in 1881 by Booker T. Washington as the Tuskegee Normal and Industrial Institute. At the time of the chapel's commission in 1959, John Welch, dean of Tuskegee's School of Mechanical Industries, wrote to Rudolph: “This building must, by its architecture, express the highest spiritual qualities that our civilization can conceive. Such expression must be evident to all who see or enter it.”17 As executed, the chapel achieved just this sort of multilayered expression of the sacred, while also representing the university's educational and spiritual aspirations.
Located in south-central Alabama's mostly rural Macon County, the small town of Tuskegee and its imposing university are approached across open fields. Passing by the local airfield, once the home of the famed Tuskegee Airmen, one is struck by the extent of the campus, which is built mainly of red brick. The campus forms the center of the Tuskegee Institute National Historic District, which also includes the Booker T. Washington home and George Washington Carver laboratory. The chapel sits imposingly on a low ridge, and its expansive, angular form stands out prominently amid the other buildings, many of which were designed by the African American architect Robert Robinson Taylor.18 Sibyl Moholy-Nagy captured the chapel's visual impact in her 1970 book on Rudolph's work:
It was an extraordinary achievement for a small … college in America's Deep South to raise both the design standards of its trustees and the money for this building… . [Rudolph] had to sacrifice to economic restrictions the multi-terraced, multi-stepped circumambulatory approach, and the intricate concrete formwork. Both simplifications have added to an overwhelming impression of timelessness in a church that is almost a cathedral—not by size but by a focusing presence on a central ridge, traversing the campus, and by the upward sweeping curve of the interior space. If ever structure acted as delineation rather than as limitation of space, it is here.19
For Washington and Carver, Tuskegee was a place of immense cultural and historical significance. The institution continues to uphold their legacy of personal and intellectual achievement as a model for current and future students, and numerous quotations from their work—including Washington's maxim “Excellence is to do a common thing in an uncommon way”—are displayed in prominent places on the campus. The chapel is both a product and a celebration of this cultural richness. It stands close to Washington's and Carver's graves, and to a monument to Washington, the sculpture Lifting the Veil of Ignorance, created by Charles Keck and dedicated in 1922 (Figure 3).
Because of extensive community involvement in fund-raising and construction, the chapel (as described in the original prospectus) has a remarkable centrality in the institution's life; it is “a shining achievement to an institute built by the contributions of men and women of very small means but of very great faith.”20 The chapel served as a symbolic refuge during the turbulent years of the civil rights movement, “a sanctuary in the original sense of the word—an inviolable asylum, surrounded by ramparts that recall a medieval fortification.”21 As a religious structure, it has great iconic significance, functioning both as a worship space and as a central gathering place for campus events, including concerts, convocations, and the annual baccalaureate. Perhaps most important, it is the home of the nationally renowned Golden Voices Concert Choir; thus, the building is not only a chapel but also an auditorium for musical performance and celebration. (The emphasis on live performance in the chapel is evidenced by the large sound booth for radio programming and recording located in the back balcony.) Upon its completion, the new chapel became the emblem of an institution then in the process of becoming modern and more technologically oriented, expanding on its traditional cultural heritage as a training ground for teachers and agriculturalists and moving toward achieving university status, which it did in 1985.
In 1958, Rudolph was asked to complete a master plan for the Tuskegee campus in collaboration with the Washington, D.C.–based African American architectural firm of Fry & Welch. That invitation likely resulted from Rudolph's nearby residential work in Auburn, where he had been an undergraduate at the Polytechnic Institute (now Auburn University) before going on to study at Harvard.22 Rudolph proposed to unify the Tuskegee campus by means of an arcaded mall that would connect several new buildings—a clear nod to Wright's similar plan for Florida Southern College begun in 1938, whose radiating covered walkways with chapel as angular focal point Rudolph freely appropriated (Figure 4). One year later, in 1959, Tuskegee approached Rudolph again, this time with a commission to design a new campus chapel.
The original chapel at Tuskegee, designed by Robert Robinson Taylor, was built in the period 1896–98. It was destroyed on the night of 23 January 1957 by a fire purportedly caused by a lightning strike. (Some local people, having heard “a loud explosion” just before the fire broke out, still insist that it was not lightning that caused the fire, but arson.23 ) The old building was beloved, and the initial plan was to reconstruct it as nearly as possible.24 Rudolph, working under the guidance of a board of advisers headed by architect and civil rights activist Moreland Griffith Smith, was to design a new chapel to be built on the site of the old one. He could not have been oblivious to the old building's symbolic place within the campus's history: constructed of local brick and built almost entirely with student labor, it had been the first building in Macon County with interior electric lights—lights installed by the instructor and students of the institute's electrical division.
Ten years elapsed between Rudolph's creation of the first designs and the chapel's completion in 1969, the delay attributable mainly to funding problems. The chapel's gestation thus stretched across the decade that saw Rudolph's career at its peak. During those years he completed the Art and Architecture building at Yale, served seven years as chairman of Yale's Department of Architecture (1958–65), began work on the Government Service Center in Boston, and developed the master plan and buildings of the University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth (1963). Throughout his independent career, Rudolph maintained an atelier-type office, using local architectural firms to accomplish large-scale projects—a pattern repeated with the Tuskegee Chapel.25 Working from his office in New York, Rudolph designed the building in collaboration with Fry & Welch, with whom he had recently worked on the campus master plan.26 The chapel's construction—including major modifications to the design—was conducted primarily by Major Holland, a graduate of Howard University's architecture program and Fry & Welch's architectural representative in Tuskegee.
As project architect, Holland was charged with interpreting Rudolph's complex and often schematic design; to construct the chapel, he needed to rethink the design in many respects.27 A resident of Tuskegee, Holland was deeply engaged with the project, and it was through his skill and determination to see it realized that the chapel was finally brought to fruition. Holland made several major decisions about the building's construction, including using a steel frame rather than a concrete one in order to reduce costs, deploying a single 96-foot steel beam to support the roof above the outside pulpit, and, perhaps most significant, using a local salmon-colored brick as the major building material, rather than Rudolph's first choice of concrete. Holland chose the brick in part for economic reasons, but also because the use of brick was in keeping with Tuskegee's long tradition of brick making and bricklaying.28 According to Holland, Rudolph “only did the schematic work, [yet] he was the most intensive person I ever met. He always worked until the job was done.”29 It is clear that Holland's role in the building's realization was crucial.
The chapel's prominence is emphasized by a series of walkways that lead toward it from various parts of the campus. (Rudolph's original plan included covered walkways and a concrete campanile, but these were eliminated because of costs [Figure 5].) Because the chapel is embedded into the slope of a ridge, the walkways culminate either in entrances that lead at the lower level into the lounge, choir room, offices, and other communal spaces (such as a large meeting room dedicated to Martin Luther King Jr.) or in winding stairways that lead up to terraces surrounding the sanctuary, lending the overall plan a pinwheel effect (Figure 6). The chapel asserts its centrality with a dramatic, angular brick wall that reaches like a steeple toward the sky and is surmounted by a simple cross. The wall forms the exterior of the porte cochere entrance into the church, and to one side there is a porch with an outdoor pulpit.
As with Le Corbusier's Notre Dame du Haut de Ronchamp, the chapel's roof hovers over the interior and exterior spaces. It is a steel-trussed structure that literally and figuratively bears down upon the walls, weighing 71 tons in total. All of the 117 trusses are positioned at slightly different angles because of the warped plane of the roof—no two adjacent joists are parallel. As Holland later described the construction process, because of the sloping walls, each truss had to be fitted individually, some needing adjusting shims to allow for their being welded to the beams.30 On the building's exterior, vertical lines are strongly emphasized, and, as is also true inside, the salmon-toned brick walls provide a striking sculptural effect. Above the lower level, the sanctuary block is held up by massive piers, which accentuate the structure's overall angularity, a feature emphasized by the latticed brickwork used at the intersections of walls (Figure 7). These angles are mostly acute and obtuse; only one right angle appears in the building, on the rear side.
The chapel's celebration of the university's legacy and the African American experience is reinforced by a number of significant details and artworks. Most striking is an extensive 60-foot black-and-white mural by local landscape architect, artist, and professor Edward Lyons Pryce; the subject of the work, which is painted on the wall of the lower-level lounge, is Africa's role as the origin of civilization.31 At the mural's center, highlighting the chapel's representational power, is an image of the building set within the biblical story of the Exodus. The chapel thereby takes its place allegorically as part of a larger narrative of liberation, migration, and freedom (Figure 8).
One enters the building's main level through heavy copper doors that were part of Rudolph's design (anticipating his later use of copper detailing at Emory's Cannon Chapel). Above these is a twelve-panel copper repoussé depicting the life of Christ, also by Pryce, who additionally made a gift of an elongated African effigy that hangs on the narthex wall. The psychological impact of this space derives from the sense of compression produced by the gently sloping floors and ceiling, which gradually reduce the volume, drawing one through it. A brick taken from Booker T. Washington's birthplace in Virginia is set into a wall near the door to the sanctuary, along with a penny—“the first penny we raised to fund the project,” according to Holland—a meaningful inclusion and a simple sign of the intense communal commitment to the chapel.32
Walking through the narthex toward the sanctuary doors, one encounters the stained glass “Singing Window,” which is set into a prominent niche in the wall that extends out onto the exterior porch. The window is evocative of Tuskegee's powerful tradition of gospel music, especially the Golden Voices Choir, and it provides a symbolic key to the entire building, the design of which is focused on the choir and the acoustical enhancement of African American worship and song (Figure 9).33 Created by Katharine Lamb Tait of J&R Lamb in New York for a 1932 renovation of the original chapel, the Singing Window was initially installed in the old building's chancel. When the chapel burned down in 1957, the window was thought to be entirely lost, so no provision for its reproduction was included in the first plans for the new chapel. Drawings of the window were later found at the Lamb studios, however, and so the window niche was added to contain a reproduction of the 1932 panels. These panels reference eleven different spirituals, including imagery from “Go Down Moses,” “Let My People Go,” “O Rise Up Shepherds,” “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot,” and “Roll, Jordan, Roll.” Like the lyrics of these songs, the window panels combine secular and religious themes “to tell stories that [are] both painfully and powerfully timeless,” presenting “a visual retelling of the African American experience” at the heart of the university.34 As one moves past the window and toward the sanctuary, the panels’ imagery indicates that this building is both a preaching hall and a performance space, where the power of the Word—spoken and sung—is a source of both consolation and inspiration.
The main auditorium's centrality as gathering place for the university community is immediately signaled by its size, with seating for twelve hundred people (Figure 10). Its interior is monochromatic (including pews and carpet), yet the eye is drawn forward by solid brick walls that are at first parallel but gradually converge toward the front.35 There, the space is arranged asymmetrically, with a prominent pulpit jutting out into the room on the left side (surmounted by a bright red baldachino, or soundboard) and a space for the choir (originally intended to include an organ) curving behind it to the right. To the left of the pulpit, a stairway leads toward a small meditation chapel where the walls are punctured by colored glass block windows (Figure 11). Twin aisles lead toward the front, one focused on the pulpit, the other on the choir, as if to reinforce the dual purposes of the space—preaching and performance—and set up the call-and-response pattern typical of traditional African American religious worship.36
The most striking feature of the sanctuary is the sense of movement that develops from its geometries, as if the building itself is already in motion even before a congregation assembles. So, while the chapel's exterior evokes a fortress, its interior conveys a feeling of being alive and in motion. This psychological sense of motion is especially evident in a sketch that Rudolph made as part of his analysis of the energy flows inside the chapel, indicating that movement was central to his thinking about it (Figure 12). Holland describes this spatial dynamism as based on early Christian architecture, where a large exterior courtyard space typically led into a low, compressed narthex, followed by an explosively open nave.37 The dynamic bending of the uneven accordion-fold ceiling furthers this sense of motion as it enters the chapel at the rear balcony; it sweeps down into the sanctuary, evoking the wind of the Spirit, and then bends toward the right as it moves over the pulpit and choir, finally exiting behind the choir to the exterior (Figure 13). As Rudolph put it, “The space is always going beyond corners, leading beyond the space itself.”38 The stair-stepped brickwork of the side walls adds to this dynamic impression, as do other spaces radiating off the main sanctuary, such as the meditation chapel and the winding Wrightian stairwells. Rudolph explained: “The simple space expands itself to form side chapels and entrances in an overlapping and spiraling manner.”39 Contributing further to this impressive sense of movement are the continuous clerestory skylight windows around the perimeter of the nave, running parallel to the walls. These allow light to fall onto the brickwork, highlighting its warmth and texture and giving the sense that the interior space continues upward and out of the building.
In both plan and section, the architect's careful consideration of acoustics is apparent: the interior is a vessel for sound. Indeed, the nonparallel walls and hyperbolic paraboloid ceiling are central to the chapel's acoustic quality. As Rudolph summarized:
The directions of the movement of space are in opposite but balanced directions, which is largely responsible for the dynamic quality of the space. In addition, there is a varying velocity of the movement of space. The floor is almost level, but the ceiling height above the floor constantly changes, so that the space moves rapidly where the ceiling is high but more slowly where the ceiling is low. All of this must be imagined, so that there is a balance between opposite movements of space and light.40
The inspiration Rudolph took from Le Corbusier's Notre Dame du Haut is readily observable here. He described his intentions as involving the combination of lessons learned from Wright with those of the “International Stylists,” Le Corbusier in particular.41 Along with such elements as the outdoor pulpit and the colored glass block windows, the Tuskegee Chapel includes convex and concave spaces that evoke the Ronchamp chapel, although at Tuskegee they are rationalized into more angular forms. Rudolph's building is in certain respects a reworking of Le Corbusier's original concept, seen through the lens of the homiletical and musical emphases of the Tuskegee tradition. Rudolph redirects what Le Corbusier termed the “visual acoustics” of Ronchamp, where the walls simultaneously gather and open to the site as they extend beyond the building's physical boundaries.42 At Tuskegee, this effect is achieved through the multiple entry points on different grade levels, so that the building seems constantly to be turning both inward and outward. The interior asymmetry of Rudolph's chapel offers another striking parallel with Ronchamp, as does the monolithic roof that not only shelters the structure but also dominates it and lends it a resoundingly sculptural effect. Rudolph described the chapel as a kind of “portrait psychologically,” in reference to the series of angles and spaces for movement, acoustics, and lighting, which could “touch the psychology of the human being.”43
In 1956, James Stirling wrote of the suspicion that many rational modernists held toward the poetic expressiveness of Le Corbusier's Ronchamp chapel. Drawing a parallel with the mid-sixteenth-century mannerist inversion of Renaissance principles, Stirling argued that “the forms which have developed [at Ronchamp] from the rationale and initial ideology of the modern movement are being mannerized and changed into a conscious imperfectionism.”44 Rudolph made a similar move with his design for the Tuskegee Chapel, rediscovering this rhetorical tradition while rethinking and elaborating upon it. He drew inspiration from the Ronchamp chapel's distinctive emphasis on visual acoustics, recasting it into the neoteric religious building type of an auditorium for both voice and spoken word. As Peter Collins wrote, Rudolph's “fundamental artistic integrity is shown by his courage in carrying his admiration [for Le Corbusier's work] to its logical conclusion, just as his immense talent is shown by the many radical differences between Ronchamp and his own scheme; differences which distinguish one from the other as Canterbury Cathedral is distinguishable from the cathedral at Sens.”45 This combination of homage and invention led Mildred Schmertz (who later served as editor of Architectural Record) to observe, “The interior of the Tuskegee Chapel is one of the most dramatic and powerful religious spaces to be built in this century.”46 Echoing this assessment, Dr. Gregory S. Gray, current dean of the chapel, has written that “the Tuskegee University Chapel stands with awe-inspiring architectural height, depth, length, and breadth, to promote [the] Divine–human encounter.” Within this spiritual context, the building's mission, he says, is simultaneously to express the attainment of the highest of human possibilities and to affirm the core values of the university.47
“A Thing of the Spirit”: Emory's Cannon Chapel
If Tuskegee led Rudolph back to Le Corbusier's chapel at Ronchamp, the Cannon Chapel caused him to revisit Wright's Unity Temple (Figure 14).48 Rudolph's last realized religious building, the Cannon Chapel was built for the Candler School of Theology at Emory University, a Methodist institution founded in Atlanta, Georgia, in 1836. Completed in 1981, the chapel makes manifest Rudolph's sensitivities to site, educational context, and psychological effect, while also harking back to his own religious roots. His father was a member of Emory's first theology school graduating class in 1915, so Rudolph took great personal pride in the project, dedicating the plaza in front of the chapel to his father; this area now functions as an ecumenical gathering place for assemblies and musical performances (Figure 15).
Emory University officials had previously asked Rudolph to convert the campus's Durham Chapel into a library to house the recently acquired collection of the Hartford Seminary. That project was so positively received that librarian Channing R. Jeschke urged that Rudolph be given the commission to build a new chapel. The chapel was to be named for William R. Cannon, a dean of the school of theology and later a bishop in the Methodist Church. President Jimmy Carter and First Lady Rosalynn Carter, both Georgia natives, took part in a groundbreaking ceremony on 30 August 1979. In contrast to the Tuskegee Chapel, which was intended primarily as a preaching and performance hall, the Cannon Chapel was designed as a multiuse educational and worship space, smaller in scale, with a sanctuary seating about five hundred people—less than half of Tuskegee's capacity (Figure 16).
Like the Tuskegee Chapel, the Cannon Chapel includes facilities beyond its worship space—in this case, faculty offices, classrooms, and a student commons. The building is set into a tight space between Emory's historic quadrangle and the other theology school buildings (Figure 17). Similar to Wright's Unity Temple, the Cannon Chapel is constructed of reinforced concrete, but Rudolph's building is formed of a series of parallel barrel vaults at varying heights, supported by muscular beams that branch at the top where they meet the vaults in what Don Saliers, professor emeritus of theology and worship, calls “angel wings.”49 Thus, the symmetrical geometries that Rudolph observed at Unity Temple undergird the Emory building, but they are broken up here, and the building conveys a more dynamic feel. (In some early studies, Rudolph's scheme is closer to Wright's than in the completed building [Figure 18].) In the office and classroom areas, the vaults produce a monastic impression, suggestive of traditional Christian buildings such as the Cistercian abbey of Le Thoronet, which inspired Le Corbusier's La Tourette monastery. The vaults, supporting a red tile roof, also evoke the arched windows of Emory's marble quadrangle buildings, designed by architect Henry Hornbostel in 1916.
The chapel is approached from the quad by a bridge connecting it to the university's historic center; this culminates in a canopied entrance, or propylaeum (Figure 19). This entrance is on axis with the main entrance to the university's Michael C. Carlos Museum of Art on the quad's other side. (Michael Graves's 1993 museum addition is a postmodern reinterpretation of Hornbostel's earlier campus architecture.) The chapel's connection to the quadrangle provides a dramatic stage for such liturgical events as the Palm Sunday and Easter Vigil processions. At the lower level, a thoroughfare extends from the building's eastern side under a monolithic concrete wall out into the plaza (Figure 20). This walkway also gives access to the lower-level student commons and, by means of a winding stair, to the chapel's upper level (Figure 21). On the plaza side, a bell banner reaches up into the sky, framing a large perforated Latin cross (see Figure 2).
Inside the chapel, a rectangular central floor with movable seating is surrounded on all sides by a series of galleries at various heights, reached by a complex configuration of stairs and entrances. (While evidently drawing on Wright's Unity Temple, Rudolph's irregular plan and interior elevations present a striking contrast to Wright's highly symmetrical and uniform composition [Figure 22].) Fixed seating in these galleries is painted gray to match the ubiquitous concrete construction, a color scheme softened by the addition of wood parquet floors, wood slatted paneling behind the communion table, and a wood screen between the main sanctuary and the side “morning chapel” (Figure 23).50 The main chapel's configuration is communally oriented, with choir and congregation surrounding the worship center (communion table and lectern) on all sides, so that all worshippers are able to see and interact with one another. All fixtures on the main floor are movable, so the communion table and lectern may be placed along the short east wall or the long north wall, with brackets available at either location for the demountable copper cross (or menorah).
The chapel's spatial and functional flexibility was further enhanced by the decision to eliminate a dais for the worship center, a feature otherwise typically found in Methodist churches. This controversial decision forms the central story line of the Academy Award–nominated documentary short Spaces: The Architecture of Paul Rudolph, in which Rudolph and the building committee, notably Don Saliers, are seen negotiating Rudolph's original oval design for a raised platform—a design the architect was eager to show the committee when finishing the schematic in his New York office. Rudolph eventually bent to the committee's wishes for a rectilinear altar table without a dais, asking angrily, “Why don't they be the architects? … Let them finish it!”51 Yet the resulting freestanding table added to the flexibility of the space, reinforcing Rudolph's notion of worshippers as performers: no one here can be a passive participant, for the space is effectively a stage set. According to Saliers, “It is hard to hide: there is no place to go but to be right there, which is one of the real virtues of the building.”52 The chapel's design thus encourages students and faculty to engage directly with one another. Here the seminary community meets for daily prayer and worship, and liturgy and preaching courses utilize the space for teaching and practice; other denominational and interfaith groups also regularly worship here. So convincing is the building as a unifier for the school of theology that, as Saliers says, “the community of the seminary knows its identity in the chapel, better than in the classroom.”53
The chapel is illuminated by four light sources, one at each corner, plus the clerestories that run the length of the vaults (Figure 24). These light sources are echoed by the copper top of the communion table, which similarly has four corner openings. The four light sources and four tabletop openings reinforce the prominence of the four clusters of pillars, one at each of the building's interior corners, supporting the vaults (the pillars’ oval bases were to have echoed the shape of the dais). Rudolph asserted that the four corners of the earth come together in the chapel's vaults and are grounded by the four massive pillars. The concrete used here was given a ribbed texture by the wooden formwork; this contrasts with the herringbone pattern found at the ends of the vaults. Along with the gray concrete, the chapel employs a subdued color palette: pale-yellow stained pine planking inside the vaults and copper for details such as the communion table and handrails on the stairways. As Saliers has observed, when bright colors are used—in banners and liturgical vestments, for instance—they “explode” within the space.54
Saliers has spoken of the chapel as “activating all the primary senses,” with Rudolph's “deep connections to music and light” deployed to give a rhythmic, sensory, dynamic dimension to the building. “It is a wonderfully supple space, where one can do almost anything. Children for instance know what to do in it, and activate it with their presence.”55 Walking into the sanctuary, one enters a vibrant space that is visually cluttered; the eye does not know where to land, and the hand wants to touch everything.56 The building is visually complex and chaotic, with numerous points of entry, terraces, ramps, changes in level, stairways, exposed heating and ventilation pipes, balconies, and bridges (Figure 25). Spatially it engages the observer at multiple levels, for it forces a deployment not only of one's visual capacities but of one's other sensory and cognitive faculties as well. Where in the room should one go, both to see and to hear? How does one get there? What physical and tactile experiences does one have in that bodily movement? How would one's experiences be changed if one were to occupy a different place in the building? The space manipulates the observer into participating in its complexity and irregularity, evoking a psychologically composite experience that emphasizes both the impact of the building and the significance of the observer's role within it.
The building's creation was not without controversy. For one thing, Rudolph's use of reinforced concrete broke with the predominant pink and gray marble of the university's quadrangle. More pointed, however, was a debate over the building's $4.8 million cost. Students particularly objected, and in 1978, several of them formed the Coalition Against the Chapel.57 As a consequence of the resulting dialogues among students, faculty, and administration, the chapel was designed and presented as a space not only for teaching and worship but for performance, debate, and critical encounters as well.58 The chapel thus became emblematic of the social anxiety and self-conscious turning outward that American Protestantism underwent in the late twentieth century, as it became more engaged in social activism and in efforts to achieve greater diversity and inclusion within its ranks.
This turn was perhaps best exemplified by the contemporary literary and arts magazine motive, the official publication of the Methodist Student Movement. Based in Nashville and published since 1941, motive (the title of which was always spelled with a lowercase m) supported and represented modern Methodism's progressive, socially engaged break from the traditionalism and formalism of the past (Figures 26 and 27). Ironically, motive ceased publication in 1972, while the Cannon Chapel was under construction, after being suppressed following the publication of two issues dedicated to the topic of human sexuality.59 Nonetheless, the chapel may be understood as an architectural embodiment of motive's progressive Methodist ethos, an identity that continues into the present day, as the university affirms its “commitment to respect religious pluralism.”60 At the chapel's dedication on 30 September 1981, Jim L. Waits, dean of the theology school, stated, “Throughout the planning of the chapel, it has been intended as a center for witness, mission, and the renewal of the community of faith, and as a place of encounter with the significant moral and social issues confronting the church, the seminary, and the University in the contemporary world.”61 During its first year of operations, the chapel featured performances by the Tokyo String Quartet and the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater. Renowned choral conductor Robert Shaw staged numerous musical performances in the chapel over the years. President Bill Clinton and Vice President Al Gore used the chapel for a 1995 economic summit, and it has also hosted numerous events involving civil rights and interfaith leaders.62
According to a celebratory article that appeared in the university's alumni magazine upon the building's completion, “While the jury may still be out on the chapel's design, one telling comment came from a blind student in the theology school. Although unable to observe the chapel's appearance, after a walk through it with his guide dog, he said it felt like a cathedral.”63 Rudolph would undoubtedly have appreciated such a judgment on his work: it fulfills his aspiration that a building should above all convey an experiential psychological depth, an aspiration that Wright also alluded to by saying, “A chapel is a thing of the spirit and for the spirit.”64 As Saliers put it, “All I can say is that the building really is a humanizing and deeply shaping space. People go away from there having remarked on how they've experienced light and textures and one another, and that is, I think, an architect's greatest compliment.”65
Rudolph and “Late Style”
Beyond its liturgical, cultural, and pedagogical functions, the Cannon Chapel speaks of what literary critic Edward Said called an artistic “lateness of style.”66 Seen from this perspective, the building is less about any harmony or resolution achieved by the architect than it is about resistance and difficulty, “poised uneasily between anarchy and form.”67 That Rudolph's practice declined in the 1970s is well known; he slipped from architectural fashion, especially after the burning in 1969 of the A&A building at Yale, an event widely interpreted as a deliberate rejection of his “brutalist” work and the establishment it represented. Yet Rudolph continued to produce major urban interventions, especially in Southeast Asia, where he proceeded, in Mildred Schmertz's words, as “an obdurate modernist.”68 This impulse seems to have shaped his work on the Cannon Chapel as well. In the documentary film made about him soon after the chapel's completion, Rudolph's intransigence is on full display: “My intention is to read the demands of society and try to articulate those and put them into a three-dimensional form—and if my interpretation of that is at odds with what people are used to or comfortable with, it doesn't stop me.” At the film's end, he describes his work at Emory as the “uneasy compromise of man's needs and artistic vision.”69
During the design process for the Cannon Chapel, the building committee asked Frank Kacmarcik, a well-known Benedictine liturgical consultant who lived at Marcel Breuer's Saint John's Abbey in Collegeville, Minnesota, to assess the Rudolph building's liturgical and aesthetic functionality. He described it as “mannerist” (not unlike Stirling's description of Le Corbusier's Notre Dame du Haut de Ronchamp) in its reliance on an excessive and self-conscious use of a particular idiom. He asserted that the chapel reflected a “conscious imperfectionism” that forced the observer to engage at multiple levels with its structural convolutions.70 If at Tuskegee Rudolph rationalized the unconventionality of Le Corbusier's Ronchamp chapel to create a modern, functional preaching and performance hall, at the Cannon Chapel he distorted the rationalist underpinnings of Wright's Unity Temple to produce psychological effects of unresolved emotion and energy. In place of Wright's carefully controlled elements within a symmetrically balanced whole, Rudolph created an intentionally cluttered space of exposed mechanical elements, interlocking galleries, and disjunctive vaults that he described as “open and moving, like a spiral.”71
To read the Cannon Chapel as representative of an intransigent late style on Rudolph's part thus seems fitting. It is a space where the sense of the sacred comes not from its serenity or balance but from internal contradictions and a calculated absence of structural unity. The degree of his obduracy becomes apparent when the Cannon Chapel is compared with the chapel at Tuskegee: while both were built to meet similar programmatic demands, the earlier building provides a far more readily accessible evocation of the sacred. The Cannon Chapel's contradictions, by contrast, emerged from negotiations between client and architect, but also from Rudolph's pursuit of his desired ends even in the face of resistance. The space of the Cannon Chapel is indeterminate, psychologically unresolved, and its intended use is undefined, ambiguously indicated. As a result, the building's sacred dimension is made abstruse, dependent on its own dynamic materiality, which has the effect of forcing the community to draw out, rather than be drawn in by, the holy.
Perhaps this is what Saliers had in mind when, at the rededication service following the chapel's 2013 renovation, he offered this prayer: “May future generations, as we recall now in the words of T. S. Eliot, find here a space where ‘We have knelt where prayer has been valid.’”72 The reference here is to Eliot's “Little Gidding,” the fourth poem in his Four Quartets, the theme of which is a lack of final resolution, even in the life of faith. Saliers seemed to suggest that prayer is made valid only through its own struggle toward an indecisive discernment. The reference thereby underscores how thoroughly Rudolph cultivated a deliberate allusiveness in the chapel—a kind of vital disorder that is not quickly deciphered.