“Clock ticking” for brutality?

Ramp leading into Orange County (N.Y.) Government Center, by Paul Rudolph. (NTY)

Passage leading into Orange County (N.Y.) Government Center, by Paul Rudolph. (NTY)

So says the New York Times’s Michael Kimmelman in “Clock Ticks for Rudolph’s Orange County Government Center.” By the time you read this, the bye-bye birdie may well have chirped its demise. I had not realized that demolition was still an option, so color me pleased. Now let’s hope county officials will do their citizens’ bidding.

Kimmelman paints a different picture, suggesting that the locals want to save a building that only public officials want to raze. Actually, the building, completed in 1963, would be gone by now but for a few fans of midcentury modernism who have raised a ruckus for Brutalism. This example of that forlorn style is by Paul Rudolph, who designed the Yale Art & Architecture Building (now renovated and rebranded as Rudolph Hall), where many architects and hip old things sucked at the fond teat of modernism. (It is easy to forget that students literally tried to burn it down in 1969.)

Kimmelman, showing a flash of humor, tries to turn public officials’ longstanding dismay at the building’s functional difficulties – such as their meetings being disturbed by the hubbub of citizens downstairs registering their automobiles – into sly strategies by Rudolph to use the building to enhance democracy. He cites former Goshen legislator Rich Baum:

The building’s atrium, he told me, was where “people interacted with county government, including the Department of Motor Vehicles, the records office and the passport office; a balcony above the main floor led to the legislature, the county executive and the primary county government decision-makers,” he said. “What this meant was that, as the leaders of county government went about their business, there was always the din of people coming in and out and doing their business. Critics said this was impractical. I think it was a purposeful and an inspired idea by Rudolph.”

Maybe. Or maybe not. Kimmelman’s effort to pretzel a noisy building into a reminder to public servants to serve the public seems like a stretch to me. Maybe contemporary notes by Rudolph prove this, but Kimmelman cites only his ability to imagine that Rudolph might have so conspired. Readers have a right to wonder. Sounds dubious to me.

Still, Kimmelman doesn’t try very hard to suggest that the building is attractive, only that the popularity of its style has had a revival. And so it has for some. But most of them do not vote in Orange County. True democracy would encourage county officials to do what citizens want, not what the acolytes of Brutalism desire. We shall see tonight.

About David Brussat

For a living, I edit the writing of some of the nation's leading architects, urbanists and design theorists. This blog was begun in 2009 as a feature of the Providence Journal, where I was on the editorial board and wrote a weekly column of architecture criticism for three decades. Architecture Here and There fights the style wars for classical architecture and against modern architecture, no holds barred. My freelance writing and editing on that topic and others addresses issues of design and culture locally and globally. I am a fellow of the Royal Society of the Arts, and a member of the board of the New England chapter of the Institute of Classical Architecture & Art, which bestowed an Arthur Ross Award on me in 2002. I work from Providence, R.I., where I live with my wife Victoria, my son Billy and our cat Gato. If you would like to invest your prose with even more style and clarity, please email me at my consultancy, dbrussat@gmail.com, or call 401.351.0457. Testimonial: "Your work is so wonderful - you now enter my mind and write what I would have written." - Nikos Salingaros, mathematician at the University of Texas, architectural theorist and author of many books.
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One Response to “Clock ticking” for brutality?

  1. Reblogged this on Architecture Here and There and commented:

    The county dithered last night but did not bar the proposed partial demo. Unfortunately, full demo seems off the table. I am crying in my beer. Photography should be the last refuge of scoundrelly architecture. Here is DC Cubed’s reaction to the decision to kick an already battered can farther down the road:
    http://curbed.com/archives/2015/03/06/paul-rudolph-orange-county-government-center-demolition.php

    Like

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