"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: 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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Allison Meier

Allison C. Meier is a former staff writer for Hyperallergic. Originally from Oklahoma, she has been covering visual culture and overlooked history for print...

19 replies on “Even the Giants Fall: Photographs of Brutalist Homes in Decay”

  1. They destroyed the A&A at Yale by attaching the Gwathmey building to it.Rudolph’s building functioned marvelously as free standing sculpture, even if it never functioned practically as a place to work.

    1. I wonder if there were similar issues with the houses? Definitely beautiful buildings, but perhaps there was a functionality that caused them to turn more into objects that needed preservation rather than homes people wanted to live in.

      1. Well, that is often the way with brutalist architecture. Its concern is more about the object/space itself rather than how it will be used by people… which leads to really unpopular buildings that no one likes except those who only have to look at them for short periods of time. Same thing happens with city hall in Boston. It looks like an ugly fortress with plenty of nooks for cameras or even snipers.

        1. There is a meme going around probably for some time as I first heard about it in the 90’s that this sort of architecture was picking up on the urban unrest of the times.Its purpose was to construct fortresses, that could be defended against such unrest.

          1. Well, its pretty unquestionable that we live in an age and in a society where the prevailing zeitgeist is paranoid terror. I’m actually pretty interested in figuring out some of the root causes of that beyond the obvious terrorism which I think is a bit of a red herring, really.

  2. Looking at these photographs, I would not necessarily categorize these homes as “Brutalist.” I would argue that these are rather Modernist homes designed by a predominately Brutalist architect (Paul Rudolph). They just don’t have the characteristics as defined by Banham’s The New Brutalism or related sources.

  3. ““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.”

    That sounds like “ruin porn” to me. I don’t see how these are better.

    1. Totally agree. That was an idiotic statement and stance. It’s just become trendy to say you’re against “ruin porn,” when really the trend is simply a populace with wide access to cameras documenting the demise of American infrastructure.

    2. Agreed. It’s like an online dating profile that opens, “I’m totally skeptical about this online dating thing, but my roommate’s making me do it.”

      Just own it.

      Being simultaneously defensive about your own work and dismissive of others’ isn’t sexy.

    3. It says “well, all the other stuff that is just like this that came before was meaningless and juvenile, but mine is super super deep and meaningful and mature.”, which reeks more of art school than any “ruin porn” ever could.

  4. “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.” … This is also the concept of the “ruin porn” you profess to hate, Mr. Pretentious. I suppose you also hate photos of the Acropolis? It’s about documenting history, preserving it, whatever the context. “Ruin porn” doesn’t exist, except in the minds and mouths of those who’ve gravitated toward the trend of being against it. To the rest of us, and to time in general, it’s just photography doing what photography is supposed to do.

    1. I think it confuses things to call them brutalist and distracts from their strength as progeny of Le Corbusier who is the founder of self-referential modernist architecture.Postmodern architects pride themselves as being historically referential and deferential to buildings around what they build.Modernism sees itself as totally new.It got a bad name during urban renewal in the 60’s since it what replaced the softer gentler 19th century cityscape that was demolished. I hope they survive the revisionism that risks giving permission to destroy them.

  5. Well his images undermine the validity of his own quote. What becomes “common” is an easy target. “…I think it’s cheesy and pointless and it reeks of art school”, is a fairly sweeping and superficial indictment (of course his own work would be excluded). Is the genre flooded, probably. Is there too much mis-use and misunderstanding of HDR, yes. Is there a lot of mediocre work, there always is. But, the decay of the infrastructure, the collapse of cities like Detroit (which if you take the time to consider is quite astounding), along with the collapse of many other rust belt cities, the rapid advancement of poverty through the suburbs, and the strangling of rural ‘Merica by drug addiction are all related to “ruin porn”. At this point it is a more significant part of our cultural history and context than any pristine landscape. I am not quite ready to relegate this theme to the trash heap of puppies and sunsets. (Please note that cats were left out of the equation). And I do appreciate his images and believe they investigate something worthwhile (but not to the 47%).

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