Thursday, March 15, 2012

Saving Rudolph, Once Again

One of the buildings on the World Monument Fund's 2012 Watch List is the Orange County Government Center in Goshen, New York, designed by Paul Rudolph and completed in 1970. It seems like at least one of Rudolph's buildings is slated for demolition each year, raising the ire of modern architecture preservationists, who often prove unsuccessful in halting demolition.

Having been plagued by leaks and poor maintenance, the building has been closed and offices relocated since Hurricane Irene hit last September, when it was flooded and the structure was damaged. County Executive Edward Diana tried unsuccessfully in 2010 to have the building demolished and replaced by a new one, but those demolition plans have been renewed in light of the recent closure.

Here is the Rudolph-designed Government Center:

[Orange County Government Center by Paul Rudolph, 1970 | image source]

And the proposed replacement, architect unknown:

[Orange County Government Center proposal replacement, 2012 | image source - PDF link]

On March 5, Diana unveiled a 5 proposal (PDF link) in his 2012 State of the County Address for a New Government Center. The presentation contends that the new 3-story building, which increases the size of their facilities by 22,000sf, would cost $75 million (the 2010 proposal was $114 million, one of the reasons it was unsuccessful). It further contends that renovating the Rudolph building and creating a 22,000-sf addition would cost between $67 million and $77 million.

So given these similar price tags and the very dissimilar designs, the issue seems to be style rather than money. Sure, the presentation does pad its myriad economic stats with lines about creating jobs and drawings showing the new building four feet above the flood plain, but renovating Rudolph's building would also create jobs, and the aerials in the presentation don't jibe with the site section, so I'm skeptical about the proposed building being higher than the existing one. So, like every annual Rudolph demolition threat, it comes back to the usual fight over modern versus traditional, new versus old, etc.

I've never been a huge fan of Paul Rudolph's architecture, and photos of the Orange County Government Center make it clear why people aren't in love with the building, be it now or four decades ago when it opened and called a "monstrosity." But glimpses inside reveal some amazing, naturally lit spaces that I think beg to be saved. There's no way the neo-traditional proposal will have any civic spaces on par with what they have, ones that residents of Orange County can be proud of.

[Orange County Government Center by Paul Rudolph, 1970 | image source]

For more information on the demolition threat to the Orange County Government Center visit the World Monuments Fund, DOCOMOMO US/New York Tri-State, Taxpayers of Orange County, and of course the Paul Rudolph Foundation. The third and last of three public forums organized by the Taxpapers of Orange County takes place on March 25 in Port Jervis.