Not So Mundane: Orange County Government Center, Goshen, NY

The facts about this building are that it was completed in 1967 and designed by renowned architect Paul Rudolph. Much else is in question, as the Orange County Government Center is a building that has sharply divided the public since its opening. Many preservationists, architects and architecture aficionados call for saving and restoring the building while many in Goshen, chief among them the county administrator, call for its demolition and replacement. This post is very timely as the Orange County Legislature plans a vote on the fate of this building later this month.

I have always been a fan of the building with its active facade, profile and massing, like nothing else out there, although the variety of its profile does remind me Habitat 67 in Montreal.

I have visited the complex several times and managed to look around inside to see what all the fuss was about (above is a covert view from one of the interior landings). No one can deny that the complex needs work, it roof has many leaks and it has climate control issues. One of the arguments used is that it doesn’t fit in with the traditional, more Victorian-era character of the town of Goshen. But it is a signature work by one of America’s most renowned modernists, Paul Rudolph, a purveyor of the Brutalist-style. Rudolph’s buildings are unapologetic and hard for many people to love. But other people, including myself find them exuberant in their difference. The entire feeling of the building is unique. You can enter the complex from a variety of ways, up a large processional ramp to a courtyard (seen below) which then leads you to a wide variety of stairs, ramps and from there to entrances of different local and regional government offices.

In recent days the New York Times posted an article about some modern buildings that are fighting for protection and then expanded that to a larger discussion about significance of Brutalist architecture. It’s a interesting read, and while not in-depth, helps to shape the argument that while some may find Brutalist architecture “ugly”, much of it is significant and worthy of preservation. The question now for Orange County is whether to vote on keeping and rehabilitating the structure or demolishing it for something more traditional. Even this is not so simple as the numbers supporting both sides in a recent study have been called into question. Me, I have no doubt that if we lose this building, we lose a very special and irreplaceable piece of our history. If you want to get involved immediately, make sure to sign this petition from the World Monuments Fund, which recently named the Center to its 2012 Watch List.



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