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Rudolph and the wrecking ball

March 11, 2010 |  3:02 pm


The intersection of architecture and photography has been meaningfully busy lately. In L.A. alone there is the Luisa Lambri exhibition at the Hammer Museum, featuring her pictures of John Lautner houses, and shows at the Getty on the photography of Frederick Evans and, grouped together under the title "Urban Panoramas," that of Catherine Opie, Jeff Chien-Hsing Liao, and Soo Kim. A show at the Museum of Contemporary Art's Pacific Design Center outpost on Robert Venturi, Denise Scott Brown and Las Vegas opens March 21. These come on the heels of a recent restaging, at the L.A. County Museum, of the landmark New Topographics exhibition. Plus there's Unhappy Hipsters.

Now meet Chris Mottalini, a young photographer who is drawing notice for "After You Left, They Took It Apart," a series of pictures documenting houses by the great modernist architect Paul Rudolph just before they were demolished. The photographs are powerful in their own right, but they also raise questions that have vexed architects, historians and preservationists for years: What it is about Rudolph's work that continues to make it so vulnerable to demolition? Why is it that despite his brilliance and broad level of acclaim the people who buy his houses -- or the government bodies charged with keeping up his schools and other public buildings -- are so quick to knock them down?

Partly it has to do with Rudolph's prolific output during his career: since there are many Rudolphs out there, it follows that many are at risk at any given time. Many also were built rather efficiently and haven't aged well. But there's more to it than that: Rudolph's architecture was also tough to love, complex and challenging enough to entrance connoisseurs of architecture -- and broaden our understanding of how modernism evolved in the 1950s, 60s and 70s in this country -- while leaving plenty of others cold.

More of the series after the jump. An interview with Mottalini is here. Via Design Observer.

-- Christopher Hawthorne

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Photographs by and courtesy Chris Mottalini. For more images and more information, visit