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Since the architect Paul Rudolph’s death, in 1997, his reputation has undergone one of the most dramatic rehabilitations imaginable, and his brutalist, sometimes off-putting buildings—once criticized as the worst of high modernism’s excesses—are now recognized as some of the most expressive American architecture of the twentieth century. They are also some of the most threatened. In 2002, in an effort to honor Rudolph’s legacy and advocate for preserving his work, friends of the architect, including Ernst Wagner, established the Paul Rudolph Foundation. But since then, seven of his buildings have been demolished, and earlier this month, in the face of mounting criticism that the foundation has not helped halt the destruction, Wagner, in poor health, announced he would resign as president. “I felt like Don Quixote,” he says, sitting in his apartment in the Rudolph-designed townhouse on East 58th Street. “But what the hell can you do? You need someone like Jackie O. to raise a huge hurrah.”
This past year has been particularly heart-wrenching for Rudolph fans: While his most famous building, the A&A building at Yale University, was rededicated this month as Paul Rudolph Hall after a $126 million restoration, both the elegantly cantilevered Micheels House in Westport, Connecticut, and his Cerrito House in Watch Hill, Rhode Island, were torn down. And next year could be even worse, as at least ten more Rudolph buildings are under threat, including the Concourse Building in Singapore, the Blue Cross Blue Shield skyscraper in Boston, and his Orange County Government Center in Goshen. In Sarasota, Florida, the campaign to save Rudolph’s Riverview High School has stalled, and the Cohen House in nearby Siesta Key is now likely headed into foreclosure.