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Even the Giants Fall: Photographs of Brutalist Homes in Decay

"After You Left/They Took It Apart" by Chris Mottalini
“After You Left/They Took It Apart” by Chris Mottalini (all photographs courtesy the artist)

Just before they were turned to rubble, Chris Mottalini photographed Paul Rudolph-designed homes in their final decay.

The series of photographs has just been published in a book with Columbia College Chicago Press called After You Left/They Took It Apart: Demolished Paul Rudolph Homes and is currently on display at the Landing at Reform Gallery in Los Angeles. Rudolph is one of the best known of the architects whose work has been defined as Brutalism, using hard-angled block forms in surprising shapes to create a new kind of modernism. His most recognizable building is the Yale Art and Architecture Building, where he also served as dean. Yet others are in danger of future loss, such as the Orange County Government Center, while others still like his striking Riverview High School in Sarasota, Florida are already gone. However, Mottalini has focused not on these monoliths, but on the homes in their last state of collapse.

“I hate the whole photographic concept of ‘Ruin Porn’,” he told Hyperallergic. “I think it’s cheesy and pointless and it reeks of art school. That said, there was just something about those lonely, neglected homes waiting to be destroyed, all the furniture and the things that make a home a home had been removed and obviously the families that used to live there were long gone. As a result, I was able to experience these homes in a pure and solitary way. It was like wandering around in the woods alone.”

He first got intrigued with the homes when he photographed Rudolph’s 1972 Micheels House in Westport, Connecticut, demolished in 2007, becoming the first of Rudolph’s designs to be destroyed after his death in 1997. It then it grew into an obsession to photograph as many as possible before they disappeared, including the 1956 Cerrito House in Watch Hill, Rhode Island, and the 1941 Twitchell House in Siesta Key, Florida.

Empty, there’s something unusually soft to their heavy Brutalism, a sort of faded dignity. There’s also the reminder that no matter the strength projected by your work, even the most monumental forms of architecture will fall. The photographs capture the hard angles of the homes and the somber warmth of the last days of sunlight to visit their forms. Mottalini states that, in his opinion,  Rudolph’s work really “revolves around his use of light,” and there’s definitely evidence for that in the last captures of the homes.

“Those homes just captivated me and I felt like I had to photograph as many as I could get my hands on,” he explained. “In a way, I feel like the photos are, in part, a rough sketch of his personality. My main focus was to preserve those soon to be demolished homes in the only way I could. However, the project is also about vanishing modernism, changing architectural landscapes, ‘progress’, nostalgia, shapes and light, and just the idea of home.”

"After You Left/They Took It Apart" by Chris Mottalini
“After You Left/They Took It Apart” by Chris Mottalini
"After You Left/They Took It Apart" by Chris Mottalini
“After You Left/They Took It Apart” by Chris Mottalini
"After You Left/They Took It Apart" by Chris Mottalini
“After You Left/They Took It Apart” by Chris Mottalini
"After You Left/They Took It Apart" by Chris Mottalini
“After You Left/They Took It Apart” by Chris Mottalini
"After You Left/They Took It Apart" by Chris Mottalini
“After You Left/They Took It Apart” by Chris Mottalini
"After You Left/They Took It Apart" by Chris Mottalini
“After You Left/They Took It Apart” by Chris Mottalini
"After You Left/They Took It Apart" by Chris Mottalini
“After You Left/They Took It Apart” by Chris Mottalini
"After You Left/They Took It Apart" by Chris Mottalini
“After You Left/They Took It Apart” by Chris Mottalini
"After You Left/They Took It Apart" by Chris Mottalini
“After You Left/They Took It Apart” by Chris Mottalini
"After You Left/They Took It Apart" by Chris Mottalini
“After You Left/They Took It Apart” by Chris Mottalini
"After You Left/They Took It Apart" by Chris Mottalini
“After You Left/They Took It Apart” by Chris Mottalini
"After You Left/They Took It Apart" by Chris Mottalini
“After You Left/They Took It Apart” by Chris Mottalini

After You Left/They Took It Apart: Demolished Paul Rudolph Homes by Chris Mottalini is available from Columbia College Chicago Press. Photographs from the series are on view at The Landing at Reform Gallery (6819 Melrose Ave, Los Angeles) through November 30. 

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