Lawmakers in Orange County, N.Y. have finally summoned the political will locally to partially tear down and partially remodel a hideous, soul-crushing, Brutalist government building that only an architect’s mother could possibly love.
Naturally, then, New York Times architecture critic Michael Kimmelman is really sad and wants desperately to save the monstrosity.
The eyesore at issue is the Orange County Government Center, located on otherwise pleasant Main Street in Goshen, a charming town of 5,500 about an hour north of New York City.
The awful, asymmetrical building was designed in 1963 by Paul Rudolph, dean of the Yale School of Architecture. It was built in 1967.
Kimmelman describes the hellish, revolting miscreation in exactly the words you would expect from a wavy-haired, fancypants graduate of both Yale University and Harvard University.
It “announces itself as a civic hub,” Kimmelman says of the spiritually dead edifice. “It’s made of corrugated concrete and glass, organized into three pavilions around a courtyard, like an old wagon train around a village green.”
“Rudolph was a master of sculpturing light and space, following in the footsteps of Frank Lloyd Wright, whose emotionalism he married to the cool Modernism of Europeans like Walter Gropius and Le Corbusier,” Kimmelman gushes.
“His style, unfortunately, came to be branded Brutalism, and turned off many,” the architecture critic then notes wistfully. “But the government center was conceived with lofty social aspirations, making tangible Rudolph’s concept of energetic governance as a democratic ideal.”
Kimmelman despises a local plan to tear down parts of the building and remodel other parts to make the whole reasonably habitable, less leaky and somewhat less of a cruel architectural crime against humanity.
“Goshen would end up with a Frankenstein’s monster, eviscerating a work that the World Monuments Fund, alarmed by precisely this turn of events, included on its global watch list alongside landmarks like Machu Picchu and the Great Wall of China,” Kimmelman writes.
As law professor and blogger Ann Althouse observes, of course, the building is “on the endangered monuments list because it’s endangered, not because it’s of equal distinction” with Machu Picchu or the Great Wall.
Gene Kaufman, the owner of Gwathmey Siegel Kaufman, a big architecture firm in Manhattan, has offered to design a new building and buy the Orange County Government Center for $5 million to turn it into some “artists’ live-work space, with public exhibitions.”
However, County Executive Steven M. Neuhaus is having none of it, and is pressing ahead with the partial demolition and partial remodeling project.
While Neuhaus’s motivations are unclear, locals have long hated the building. They were calling it a “monstrosity” since the days of its construction, according to the Times Herald-Record, a local newspaper.
A single 1970 storm caused huge roof leakages and leaky roofs have always been a problem because — who could have predicted this? — winter weather savages the building.
The building also costs local taxpayers an arm and a leg to heat.
Local detractors call the building “not very attractive” and “wrong from the start.” “It should be torn down,” they insist.
Many of the 278 buildings designed by the Rudolph, the architect, have already been demolished around the country.