One of the fundamental rules of architecture as taught in beginning design courses is the importance of pushing the system. An idea should be so wholly thought out and executed that the design rules and logic are obvious to anyone, even if it is at the most elementary level. Paul Rudolph, 1918-1997, understood without a doubt how to successfully design a building that could be read for what it was conceived to be, as is the case with the Milam Residence of Jacksonville, Florida.
Using concrete to yield a front facade that is readable even from a distance, Rudolph explores the separation of interior and exterior spaces as the framework exhibited is independent of the structure behind it. Although detached from the program of the house, the rectangles and squares of the orthogonal facade occasionally relate interior rooms at various levels by the formation of sun screens, making the design both visually stimulating and functional.
Paul Rudolph is known for his intensity and his consistent use of complex floor plans which is evident in this residence as much as in his other buildings. The planning of this house beckoned a new design methodology for Rudolph, one about a rigid modular organizational system.
The spatial variety and satiation of vertical and horizontal spaces are differentiated by frames, walls and floors which are extended to create varying volumes according to program. In this example, spatial organization has overpowered structural organization, and the design is thoughtfully considered first by the uses of space.
The walls and floors are elongated to create elaborate forms which extend south towards a seaside view of the Atlantic Ocean. One of the very few structural purposes served ny these patterns is to block the rays of the blazing Florida sun in high temperatures. These brises-soleil also act as mullians for the glazed windows, turning the exterior wall into a set of deep openings that are filled only with glass.
On the east and west sides of the residence, the dramatic sculptural extrusions were designed as counterparts to reinforce the sectional design and strategy which so wonderfully defines the characteristics of the Milam Residence. The scheme of this project is relatable to the boxes which were explored and experimented with in the Umbrella and Deering houses.
Although these strong angles stand out against the grassy hillside and flat beaches that meet it, the juxtaposition of surfaces does not come across as unappealing or unconsidered. Standard in almost all of Rudolph's designs, the residence is constructed of fair-faced concrete floor slabs and then finished with terrazzo and undulating acoustic tiles.
The floor plan is designed around a central and long double-height living room space, which is lowered two steps below an overlooking dining area to one side and a study area to the other, creating a sitting well. The stairs also translate into functional seating, which makes movable furniture superfluous.
The shifting of a floor platform and changes of elevation conform to specific spatial characteristics. Rudolph aimed to create a variety of moods with a consideration of the programmatic needs of the occupants, "the reading area with its low ceiling and corresponding wall of books, the high ceiling of the main living area with its recessed seating, or the nestlike inglenook set on a level between the living room and the overlook.
The dining room has a perennial view of the beach and the sea out of a large framed window. Rudolph must have viewed this centralized layout as being successful as many of the subsequent projects he completed had a similar system.
Rudolph was consistently pushing towards "a renewed concern for visual delight. This is indeed the architect's prime responsibility, for other specialists can do everything else that he does and, quite often, much better."