This is an edited excerpt from a longer interview conducted by Robert Bruegmann in 1986 for the Chicago Architects Oral History Project, organized by the Department of Architecture at the Art Institute of Chicago.
Robert Bruegmann: This notion of the multi-level space in a dwelling is something which you’ve obviously been dealing with since the very earliest houses, and this is, you said, one of your prejudices or obsessions. Do you have any idea why you feel that? Why, in contrast to most people who still prefer to live on one level, are you always driving to try to design multi-level units?
Paul Rudolph: It seems to me to be innate in human behavior or human instinct. It’s the difference between Wright’s handling of space, which is based on the needs of the human being psychologically, as opposed to Mies who didn’t use space psychologically at all, and indeed the international stylists. Later on, Le Corbusier started to handle the space psychologically to satisfy psychological needs. Wright, instinctively from the very beginning—and it seems to me that’s the most unique thing about his architecture is his spatial aspects—is absolutely wedded to the needs of the human being from an emotional point of view. That’s the other reason why finally his work is much greater than any of the others. He understood that so well. Mies didn’t have a clue. The whole idea of the continuum of space, which I guess is shown best in the Barcelona Pavilion or the Farnsworth House in Illinois, is a marvelous thing. I don’t mean to say it isn’t, it’s just that it touches the tip of an iceberg. That’s the reason why Wright is so much a greater architect than Mies.
RB: There was this interest in space for Corbusier, but it seems that he always had very few prototypes in mind and that the artist’s studio with the balcony overhanging the two-story living space seemed to be one of the types that reappeared throughout his career. That also seems to be something that influences you very strongly.
PR: For the whole of the international stylist you can say, it was always the two-story high to the one-story high thing. That has a little bit to do with the multi-storied notion and the frame as a regular element. It’s not so easy to get around that. Wright managed, of course, but Wright didn’t build that many multi-story buildings either. The easy way to do it is the two-to-one ratio, but that seldom works very well, in fact. It’s a kind of equality that is unfortunate. Incidentally, Corbu’s other spatial notion, in my view anyway, was the spatial element within the larger spatial element. The core, for instance. His use of that was maybe not always so fortunate. Although, at some point it became no longer a core but rather it became a whole volume of space as in his government building in Chandigarh—the General Assembly Building—where the space wraps around that. There are all sorts of bumps and grinds, appurtenances, that come out into the major space, but then the central space, of course, is the assembly.