Paul Muller, the CPA, and the Rauh House

May 19th, 2015  |  Published in May 2015

Paul Muller, AIA, the Executive Director of the Cincinnati Preservation Association (CPA), was trained as an architect.  His profession, along with his experience with, and passion for, historic preservation, make him ideally suited to lead the CPA.  That training is especially relevant now that concern for preservation of modernist and postmodernist architecture is growing locally and nationally.

Rauh House restored. John Becker, architect, 1938

In Cincinnati, he is founder and principal of Muller Architects. Inc., an architectural firm, which has received numerous awards for architectural, urban design, and preservation projects.

Muller received a Master of Architecture from the University of Pennsylvania’s Graduate School of Fine Arts where he was awarded the Paul Philippe Cret Medal for Design Achievement.  He worked in the Philadelphia firm of Venturi, Scott Brown and Associates (Now VSBA, LLC).

Muller has served as a visiting Artist/Scholar at the American Academy of Rome.  His architectural work has been exhibited in museums and exhibitions including the Paris Biennale: “New American Architects,” at The Ecole des Beaux-Arts, the Cooper Hewitt Museum of Design, the American Academy in Rome, and the Royal Institute of British Architects, London.

Since becoming director of CPA, Muller led the restorations of the Powel Crosley, Jr. Estate in the College Hill neighborhood of Cincinnati, Ohio.  His most impressive project has been restoration of the 1938 modernist Frederick Rauh residence in Woodlawn, Ohio, a suburb just outside Cincinnati.  The Rauh house restoration is an amazing story with a happy ending

Kit Duval, CPA Board President H. Richard Duval, CPA Executive Director Paul Muller and Emily Rauh discuss the completion of the restoration in the living room. Credit: Jeffery Jakucyk

In 1937 Frederick and Harriet Rauh commissioned Cincinnati modernist architect John Becker to design a residence on an eight-acre forested site in northern Hamilton County.  Landscape architect Albert Davis Taylor, the Cleveland professional who designed several Cincinnati parks and estates, created the natural landscape.  The design of white cinder block, interlocking rectangular forms, and industrial steel windows was an extremely early and well-executed International Style residence.  The house, vacant from approximately 2005 to 2011, was slated for demolition when St Louis philanthropist and art connoisseur Emily Rauh Pulitzer, a daughter of the original owners, learned of the impending loss.

In 2010, Mrs. Pulitzer purchased the building and donated the house and site to the CPA along with funds for a complete restoration. The restoration was based on archival photographs, the recollections of the Rauh children, and evidence remaining in the house.  Although the original architectural drawings and landscape plans have not yet been located, the plans of the 1938 John Becker House, which shares many features with the Rauh House, helped guide design decisions.

The Cincinnati firm of Architects Plus was project architect for the restoration. An architectural conservator was engaged to analyze the cinderblock, paint, and plaster, and to determine the course of treatment.  The cinder block was repaired and painted in a shade of gray-white that matched the original.

The original floor plan, which had remained almost unchanged since construction, was preserved.  The plaster walls and ceilings were recreated using traditional three-coat plaster.  New parquet flooring was installed that matched the original.  The metal handrail at the main staircase was duplicated by a local metalsmith from archival photographs.  The glass-and-metal ceiling fixture in the living room was located and reinstalled in its original location.  Reproduction casework was installed in the living room and bedrooms.

Outside, features of the original Taylor landscape plan were recreated, including woodlands, a wildflower meadow, and stone paving. Taylor, who collected native plants from throughout Ohio, had shared plants with Frederick and Harriet Rauh.

Surviving wildflowers were dug up, nurtured in a plant nursery, and then replanted.  The driveway was rebuilt in its original location with a tar-and-chip finish.  A rustic-style wire fence with wood posts was installed around the perimeter of the property to match the original.

Emily Rauh Pulitzer prevented the demolition of this important early example of International Style residential architecture.  Her involvement included funding the acquisition of the property, funding the restoration, and working closely with the restoration team to establish the appropriate preservation approach to all elements of the project.  Mrs. Pulitzer extended the impact of the project through her support for educational events such as the symposium “Preservation of Modern Architecture in the Midwest.”  The tours and lectures at the site have raised awareness of the case for the preservation of modern architecture.

In the happiest of endings, the property was purchased by a new curator-homeowner, a Greater Cincinnati resident, who is a collector of contemporary art.  Mrs. Pulitzer is delighted that her childhood home is being reused in the way it was intended, as a center for art and music.  And Paul Muller is pleased that his work as executive director involved saving this significant architectural treasure.

–Sue Ann Painter

Comments are closed.