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July 25, 2014

Brutal love.

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Photo by Gwendolyn Horton

“A box is the easiest thing to build. This ain’t no box,” said Paul Rudolph in response to criticism of the Government Center he designed in the town of Goshen, New York. Completed in 1967, the Brutalist building is considered one of Rudolph’s greatest achievements. However, the structure landed on the World Monuments Fund watch list after poor maintenance led to deterioration and a series of damaging storms caused its closure in 2011. Preservationists want it saved, many in the Orange County legislature do not, and – in an interesting 11th-hour twist – architect Gene Kaufman recently offered to buy the building and transform it into art studios and exhibition spaces. 

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Photo by Gwendolyn Horton

Located an hour northwest of New York City, the building is worth going to see, as I did recently. At first, it felt smaller than it appears in photographs, but then it literally grew on me. I’ve always been a fan of Rudolph’s work, and this building does not disappoint. Standing at the end of an empty parking lot riddled with cracks and weeds, the now vacant building is surrounded by a freshly mowed lawn and neatly trimmed trees. The facade is a cluster of windowed boxes that appear to be lurching forward, as if they’re each trying to get a better look at you. The side of the building that faces Main Street is long and windowless. Having a sense of exaggerated perspective, the stretched and staggered boxes look as if they were frozen in mid stride, like a single frame of a stop-motion film.

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Photo by Gwendolyn Horton

It’s impossible to ignore the fact that the boxes look a bit like jail cells – albeit beautifully designed, sunlight-flooded jail cells – foreshadowing the future for those who appeared before judges inside. Many had their fate decided here, including three suspects in the 1981 Brink's armored car robbery that left two police officers and a security guard dead. While some had their last glimpse of freedom in Rudolph’s building, others were treated to an extraordinary setting for paying taxes and doing other commonplace tasks.

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Dibs on the corner office. Photo by Gwendolyn Horton

This is where people were convicted, acquitted, married, divorced, given the right to drive, awarded passports, questioned by probation officers and granted U.S. citizenship. These are powerful events that deserve a powerful building, which Rudolph delivered. With its differently shaped windowed rooms, it celebrates both individuals and community. The boxes huddle together as one but are separated by height, width and viewpoint – a lot like people who found their lives transformed in them.

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A shaded quad between the government and courtroom wings. Photo by Gwendolyn Horton

There are several arguments to raze the building: It’s not compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act; it fails to meet the current industry standard for percentage of useable space (it offers 65% as opposed to today’s required 85%); all 127 single-pane windows need replacing; and it leaks. While these are all valid issues, “it would be surprising to hear such fiscal reasoning lead to the destruction of the county’s 1887 county office building, which is still in use,” writes Christopher Pryslopski in The Hudson River Valley Review.

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The building’s 87 roofs were designed with proper drainage, but poor maintenance caused them to deteriorate, and some of them – I’ve heard seven – leak. Photo by Gwendolyn Horton

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Photo by Gwendolyn Horton

Architect Salvatore Cuciti adds, “The fact is: many people can’t appreciate modern architecture and so they rationalize about ‘wasted space’ when in fact they never mention such flaws in the high ceilings of neoclassical civic buildings. Is space wasted if it inspires people?”

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The corduroy texture can also be found on Rudolph's 1963 A&A Building at Yale. (Yellow paint = somebody bumped their head here.) Photo by Gwendolyn Horton

“We’ve treated old buildings like we once treated plastic shopping bags,” writes actress and preservationist Diane Keaton, “we haven’t reused them, and when we’ve finished with them, we’ve tossed them out. This has to stop.”

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Screen shot 2014-07-23 at 1.44.19 PM
Drawings by Paul Rudolph

Personally, I find it amazing that the building plans were approved in the 1960s, and I believe that one of the most compelling reasons to save this building is that it’s unlikely that anything like it will ever be built again. It is a special masterpiece to be treasured. Orange County government, I implore: Cherish it.

What do you think: Will we see another Rudolph building lost, or can this one be saved?

 

Comments

We should not try to eradicate our architectural history, but preserve significant parts for future generations.That someone has offered to buy this building presents a wonderful possibility of restoring and using it. I hope the county will let it find new life.It could become an attraction and bring jobs and money to the area.

I'm not usually a fan of architecture from this era, which to me usually feels like a dungeon; however, I think the jutting boxes really give the design an edge making them an instant iconic classic. I hope they save it and I love the idea of residential use - the windows would be wonderful!

What a shame it will be if this wonderful building is allowed to fall to the wrecking ball. Please somebody step up and give this architectural landmark a second life!
I get that it might be hard for a civic government to care for this gem as it needs to be cared for given the current extreme belt-tightening we've imposed on most municipalities in the recent political climate, but saving this piece of history needs to transcend all that. Repurpose it if necessary, but for God's sake don't destroy it!

The building is quite unusual however it has an advanced intelligent design.We must preserve it.
Eduardo Acosta

recycle, refurbish, re-use

My father was the builder and as child I spent many days on the site watching the construction. I marveled at the unique finishes and the expansion of the top floors over the base of the building

When it was finished I remember the dramatic court rooms with natural light streaming in, illuminating the aggregate and split block walls. It appeared like a modern cathedral to the law, as impressive as any medieval church.

I have been to see Paul Rudolf's castle for Endo Pharmaceuticals and the buildings at Colgate University, it would be a shame to loose this iconic building and the plan to repurpose it to an art gallery seems ideal.

I would like to congratulate God for creating Architects and to thank this one for Saving this marvelous building!
We the people are in this architect's debt. Believe it!

I would like to thank God for Creating Architects and to thank this one for Saving this building!

I love this building. Hopefully it can be saved. It's so sculptural it would be a pity to lose this from our shared landscape.

As an Englishman who loves America, this strikes me an unmissable opportunity to preserve an outstanding piece of recent American heritage, and prove to the world that this is a country that can, against the odds, turn its back on the culture of disposability.

The civic powers that be have the chance to be remembered, not for the rampant mediocrity of the thousands of banal buildings they waved through the planning process, but for preserving the special, the original, the best-of-its-time.


I live in a little house built by Richard Neutra in 1950. It has its quirks and no one would build this house today but it is a treasure. I could never live in an "ordinary house" after having lived here. Let us not lose the treasures of our past by being shortsighted.

I think it is a wonderful and very innovative building. Even if some feel that it is outmoded, I fail to see the reasoning to tear it down. Like you stated, it is unlikely to be copied again and needs to be saved. It reminds me of a time when architecture was more important than the technology.

I worked for Paul Rudolph in the 1970's and have been involved along with other architects, artists, historians & other concerned citizens from having the building torn down. We have attended legislature sessions, written OpEd's, letters to the editor, held public forums ( attended by the World Monuments Fund, the Rudolph foundation & other noteworthy individuals. Several architects among us have been subpoenaed before the legislature investigative committee. All these efforts seem to have failed in our attempt to save the building from demolition. The reasons have been misleading. For example.."too many roofs that's why it leaks".(lack of maintenance & benign neglect). "There's mold in the block work" ...(tested & proven false).The latest twist is not accepting almost $4 million in F.E.M.A. funding. We recommend a proposal to renovate the building & bring it up to current code standards (energy compliance, ADA, air quality, this could be done for $45 million.
Proposal B-B would demo one of the three buildings, cover up two or three sides of the main building & cover many of the individual roofs with a single roof. The price?.....$74million.
We need to mount a campaign with powerful & committed people over the next two weeks before the legislature committee gives it's recommendations for RFP's to sell the complex or move ahead with Proposal B-B.

I want to live and have studio space there!
What an incredible opportunity to re-orient the use, of this beautiful historic work of art.
Why do we destroy modern architectural treasures?

There are a lot of brutalist buildings that I wouldn't mind seeing removed from the planet, but this one has a uniqueness that places it in a class of its own and makes it a historic piece of architecture to be regarded much like any of the treasured Frank Lloyd Wright works of creativity and thoughtful design.

I spent many Summer days visiting my cousins who were born & raised in Goshen. As a kid, I remember the "outcry" of this modern building being erected in this bucolic town, famed for the oldest harness/trotter racing track in the US. Like the Hall of Fame/Trotter - this architectural gem must be saved & cherished as the museum is today- A new generation of modern enthusiasts has emerged across the country. Goshen can create an artists community and create economic growth around Rudolph's building.

I caught this skimming through the catalog. I can't believe this Rudolph is in Goshen! This is within 1.5 hrs. outside of NYC. If you have an architect/movement that wants to develop - regardless of the complications and difficulties - towards 'artists studios' that would be a HUGE. Goshen's current hip factor is -10. Come on guys-..seriously. Take a chance. Don't be every other depressed, uncreative upstate locale.

I grew up in nearby Middletown and attended J.W. Chorley elementary school, another incredible structure designed by Rudolph. It was razed and replaced with a complete anonymous looking behemoth. Several proposals were brought to the town's attention, a senior center for one, but they went and destroyed it anyway. It was an incredible experience going to that school, it's a shame no one will experience that again. Hopefully Orange County will come through this time.

"At first, it felt smaller than it appears in photographs, but then it literally grew on me."

Do you know what "literally" means?

Kevin:

There are two meanings to the word literally:

1: in a literal sense or manner
2: in effect : virtually

Thank you for your comment. -DWR

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