Anne Bass’ Stunning Home in Fort Worth — Get a Rare Look Inside a Paul Rudolph Masterpiece
Anne Bass, a philanthropist and cultural force in Fort Worth and New York, reportedly died on April 1 after a long illness. She was 79 years old. With her ex-husband, Sid Bass, the oil man from Texas, she was one of the leading figures in the Fort Worth art and culture scene from the late 1960s. In a 1987 Texas Monthly cover story entitled “The Empress of Fort Worth,” her effects as a tastemaker and patroness were described. This role continued as she spent more time in New York. In addition to her devotion to opera, ballet, and museums, Bass was an advocate of great architecture.
Her dazzling home in Fort Worth, designed in 1970 by Paul RudolphStill considered one of the most notable achievements in the country in residential architecture. The basses commissioned the house when they were still in their twenties and over the years they have filled it with an unparalleled collection of modern art and furniture. Here we publish a story of the house and Rudolph’s work that was originally published in the September 2019 issue of PaperCity.
IIn the 1970s, fashion designer Halston hosted infamous parties in his Manhattan townhouse for an audience at Studio 54 that included Andy Warhol, Truman Capote, Liza Minnelli, and Jacqueline Onassis. The glamorous four-story residence, designed by architect Paul Rudolph in 1966 and named for its address at 101 East 63rd Street, was the ultimate party block.
It was also a classic Rudolph with a complex arrangement of terrace levels, floating stairs, and catwalks. After Halston’s death in 1990, the townhouse changed hands twice and then went on sale in 2011, languishing without buyers for nearly a decade. Rudolph, who was once one of the most famous and influential architects of the 1960s, had gone out of style.
Even Halston’s seal of approval did not seem to arouse interest in the architect’s work. Across the country, many of Rudolph’s once-cherished brutalist buildings have either been neglected or abandoned.
However, there was a time when America couldn’t get enough of Rudolph’s job. As a student of the Bauhaus founder Walter Gropius at Harvard University, Rudolph quickly made a name for himself in the 1940s and 1950s and designed modernist beach houses on Florida’s central west coast. As a pioneer of the Sarasota Modern architectural movement, Rudolph designed remarkable homes, schools, and other buildings with open floor plans, glass walls, and cantilevered overhangs.
A genius at manipulating space and light, he experimented with reinforced concrete, a material he used throughout his career. In the 1960s, Time Magazine praised Rudolph as an “architectural prodigy” whose work had already overshadowed Mies van der Rohe, Frank Lloyd Wright and Le Corbusier.
At Yale University, where he was chairman of the department of architecture from 1958 to 1964, Rudolph made the school one of the most important places in the world for an architecture study. (Two of his students, Norman Foster and Richard Rogers, won the Pritzker Architecture Prize.)
His design for Yales Art & Architecture Building put brutalism on the map in the United States, with heavy blocks of textured concrete masterfully juxtaposing glass and steel. The remarkable interior of the building was characterized by an open floor plan with several terrace levels and an exquisite play of light and shadow, reminiscent of his houses in Sarasota. The building was first hailed for its forward design and later vilified as an example of the soulless and formidable nature of brutalism.
A mysterious fire destroyed much of the building in 1969 and required decades of backlash against brutalism – and Rudolph. Almost 40 years passed before the Yale building was finally restored to its original design in 2008. It has since been renamed Rudolph Hall.
The renewed interest in brutalism has brought Rudolph again into focus today. Architectural Digest and The New York Times celebrated its 100th anniversary last year with articles heralding its legacy. (Rudolph, who spent his last decades designing skyscrapers in Asia, died in 1997).
Two of the architect’s most famous residences – Halston House and Umbrella House in Sarasota – were recently listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The Halston house, which had been struggling to find a buyer for so long, sold for $ 18 million in January 2019 – this time to another famous fashion designer, Tom Ford, who is restoring it.
Fort Worth’s powerful and philanthropic bass family was one of Rudolph’s primary supporters in the 1960s and 1970s. Yale graduate Perry Richardson Bass, heir to his uncle Sid Richardson’s livestock and oil fortune, gave Rudolph his first assignment in Texas.
The Sid Richardson Physical Sciences Building at Texas Christian University was completed in 1966 and is Rudolph at his most brutal: a concrete and cantilevered monolith designed to complement the older, Art Deco-inspired Science Building on University Drive.
A remarkable bass home
When the 1970s brought cultural shift and an aversion to the brutalist aesthetic, Rudolph flirted with the use of glass instead of concrete. His first glass skyscraper, the Twin Towers in downtown Fort Worth, was built in 1979 for Sid Bass and the Bass Brothers Enterprises.
During that decade, Rudolph also created a number of notable residences, including his own penthouse in Manhattan on Beekman Place. As a tour de force of light and space, it served as the architect’s ideas laboratory with 27 terrace levels, treacherous, bannister-free catwalks and a steel frame clad with highly polished Formica. The building became a New York City landmark in 2012.
In the Bass House, 1970, Paul Rudolph designed the table, which was provided with a subway grille and provided with mirrors. Bass family portraits by Andy Warhol.
But nothing comes close to the beauty and complexity of Rudolph’s Bass House in Fort Worth’s Westover Hills. Anne Bass and her ex-husband Sid Bass commissioned the house in 1970 when they were still in their twenties and only a few years out of college. Both were admirers of Rudolph’s work.
Sid had been to Yale and Vassar in the architect’s heyday. Anne had attended Yale lectures given on the house by the great architecture critic and historian Vincent Scully, based on a 1991 House & Garden story. Bass House was closed to the media until the House & Garden article came out 28 years ago, and very little has been seen publicly since then – until now.
Made entirely of steel and enclosed by glass and aluminum, the house is bright and transparent, reminiscent of the work of two of Rudolph’s greatest influences, Frank Lloyd Wright and Mies van der Rohe. The architecture also reflects Anne’s own minimalist aesthetic and preference for straight lines – there isn’t a single curve in the house.
The house is essentially made up of rectangular levels that float above the hilly terrain. It consists of three main floors, which are divided into 12 levels with 14 different ceiling heights, and a small penthouse. Dramatic cantilevers tower above the ground and encompass the swimming pool and truck stop. Visitors enter the house under an amazing 40 foot boom.
Inside, Rudolph choreographed the space like dance moves, with a confusing series of steps and landings leading to sunken and elevated areas. Intimate rooms with low ceilings open up to larger, double-height rooms. A more kinetic house has yet to be designed, and it all makes sense: Anne was trained in ballet, and dance served as one of Rudolph’s inspirations for the house.
“The ideal of weight and counterweight, similar to the movement of the human body, became the genesis of the house,” said Rudolph to the author of the house and garden, Mildred F. Schmertz.
The house is supposed to present extraordinary art – and for good reason. At the time of the House & Garden 1991 post, the article highlighted Anne’s collection of works by Mark Rothko, Alexander Calder, Ellsworth Kelly, Frank Stella, Morris Louis, Henri Matisse, and Andy Warhol. Rudolph designed some of the furniture himself, including leather banquets in the sunken living room and a floating platform bed for the master bedroom, which he mixed with iconic Mies van der Rohe Barcelona chairs and Cedric Hartman lighting.
Rudolph worked with modernist landscape architect Robert Zion on the design of the extraordinary property, while British garden designer Russell Page created the formal and classic aspects, including a striking allée of manicured oaks and a reflective pool for Aristide Maillol’s large reclining nude sculpture The River. There is also a rose garden, a wisteria-covered pergola, and a greenhouse designed by Rudolph. Anne, an avid gardener, has immaculately maintained the gardens, as well as the architecture and interior of the house, which remain largely unchanged.
Rudolph considered the Bass House his finest residential work, and it remains a lasting tribute to the underrated architect who had an eye for the fusion of beauty and experiment.
“Rudolph’s influence is not yet fully recognized, but he’s on par with any architect of his generation,” said Dan Webre, architect and board member of the Paul Rudolph Foundation in New York City. “A lot of his ideas are becoming mainstream right now.
“When you think of Zaha Hadid, it’s safe to say that she was influenced by Rudolph. It paved the way for new room ideas and new materials. He always pushed the envelope. “