More Brutal Treatment of Paul Rudolph’s Architecture

The hardworking staff has previously noted the beleaguered buildings designed by midcentury modernist architect Paul Rudolph, which include two local landmarks: the old Blue Cross Blue Shield building at 133 Federal Street and the Government Service Center.

Now comes the latest assault.

From Michael Kimmelman’s piece in Wednesday’s New York Times:

Landmark’s Last Hope For Rescue

This week, lawmakers in Goshen, N.Y., have a last chance to save an archetype of midcentury modernist architecture — and JPGOSHEN1-articleLargethemselves from going down as reckless stewards of the nation’s heritage.

The plan is to gut Paul Rudolph’s Orange County Government Center, strip away much of its distinctive, corrugated concrete and glass exterior and demolish one of its three pavilions, replacing it with a big, soulless glass box. Rudolph, who died in 1997, at 78, was a leading light of American architecture when this building, one of his best and most idealistic, opened nearly half a century ago. Like Rudolph, the center suffered abuse over the years but is now being championed by new fans that recognize his genius, and the latest plan as vandalism.

Then again, not everyone is a fan, as Julie V. Iovine notes in Thursday’s Wall Street Journal.

Not Easy to Love


Controversy has always surrounded the Orange County Government Center, a monumental complex 50 miles northwest of New York City. It was designed in 1966 in the Brutalist style by Paul Rudolph, the celebrated modern architect who studied with Walter Gropius and was chairman of the Yale School of Architecture from 1958 to 1965. But that simmering controversy has now come to a boil.

A plan is at the ready to alter beyond recognition the provocative-looking complex of three fluted-concrete buildings—made of stacked, extruded volumes with wall-size, eyelike windows suggesting a giant robotic insect.

Even more robotic is Steven Neuhaus, the Orange County executive who, Kimmelman says, “seems hell-bent on demolition” and has vetoed the possibility of a sale to Gene Kaufman, described by the Journal as “a New York architect who wanted to buy the complex and turn it into artists’ studios.”

The state legislature had until yesterday to override that veto. We’re guessing, sadly, it didn’t.

(Sadly, we guessed right.)

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2 Responses to More Brutal Treatment of Paul Rudolph’s Architecture

  1. Bill says:

    Wow, to each his own taste, but to me, that is one hideous building. The phrase in your excerpt, “a monumental complex” says it all to me: it’s a “monument” to either to the architect’s ego or for space explorers to uncover in the future (like in 2001: A Space Odyssey). But for people who have to look at it or work in it, I say, good riddence.
    Too often we “honor” and revere architects for having created buildings that make a bold statement, while ignoring the reality of living with and within the structure that embodies that highly lauded, so-called bold statement on a daily basis. Worse, then the architect’s presumed legacy becomes more important to outsiders and gawkers than the downside of a building that is a daily misery or eyesore. It’s a form of celebrity worship and deference of which we don’t need more–we have way too much of it already in the country and around the world.

    • Campaign Outsider says:

      Lots of people agree with you, Bill. But to me, it’s not ultimately an issue of beauty (although I do like much of Rudolph’s work for its eye-wrenching quality), but an issue of history. America is too willing to obliterate its past, both good and bad. To me, that diminishes society rather than enhances it.

      But as you say, suum cuique . . .

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