ArchitectureBoston

After You Left They Took It Apart

Posted in Vol 13 No 1 by bsaab on February 19, 2010

Micheels House; Westport, Connecticut; 1972–2007.

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Warning: What you are about to see contains depictions of extreme violence.

In 2007, photographer Chris Mottalini was asked to document a house in Westport, Connecticut that was about to be demolished. It was no ordinary house, as he realized as soon as he crossed the threshold. The architect was Paul Rudolph, and Mottalini was about to embark on a new obsession. He has since captured what he calls “final portraits” of the three houses shown here, now demolished, as well as photographs of more than a dozen projects by the architect best known in New England for the Hurley Building (Lindemann Center) and First and Second Church in Boston; the Yale Art and Architecture building; and the campus of the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth.

Mottalini recorded the death throes of these houses — the ephemeral moment after they were abandoned by their owners and before they were destroyed. It is this sense of dread — the anticipation of violence — that hangs over each image, that lends poignancy to what the photographer describes as “the grace of these homes as they stood in defiance of severe neglect.”

Together, these images present an effect rarely achieved in photography but familiar in film. The turning door knob in slasher movies, the scary music in horror flicks, the raised executioner’s ax in costume dramas — and we know. Something very bad is about to happen.

With loss comes sorrow for what might have been. And so, too, do these images suggest other, happier, endings. Here are materials, details, and cabinetry that might have been reused or refurbished for their midcentury modishness. Here are spaces that might have sheltered other families. Here are the workings of one of the 20th century’s most inventive architectural minds that might have been celebrated, or embraced in some new rendition. Those who hired Rudolph frequently gave him a commission containing the seed of its own demise: an extraordinary site. Individuals ultimately determine the fate of houses such as these: people who want a better view, bigger bedrooms, fancier finishes — a house that by some calculation reflects the inflated value of the land. There are times and circumstances when no one would blame them for their choice. But few designers will look at these photographs without imagining that these buildings could have had another life.

Top image: Micheels House; Westport, Connecticut; 1972–2007.

4 Responses

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  1. […] most depressing example to make the rounds lately is photographer Chris Mottalini’s project, “After You Left, They Took it Apart.” The photo essay documents three houses by the brutalist master Paul Rudolph in varying states of […]

  2. […] most depressing example to make the rounds lately is photographer Chris Mottalini’s project, “After You Left, They Took it Apart.” The photo essay documents three houses by the brutalist master Paul Rudolph in varying states of […]

  3. Daily Digest for March 26th said, on March 26, 2010 at 3:03 pm

    […] Shared After You Left They Took It Apart. […]

  4. Letters « ArchitectureBoston said, on November 30, 2010 at 9:44 am

    […] Mottalini’s "After You Left, They Took It Apart" [Spring 2010] draws attention to the very real threat to many of Paul Rudolph’s […]


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