RUDOLPH IN RUINS
Originally published on March 8, 2012
Passing through the colonial charm of Main Street in Goshen, New York, the last thing you expect to find is a Brutalist masterwork, but there it is: Paul Rudolph’s 1971 Orange County Government Center, a series of long windowless boxes stacked ajar as if blown by the force of the cars whooshing past. From the parking lot, the composition reorganizes—transformer-like—into dozens of glass-fronted boxes still unevenly stacked. Over 80 individual roof planes cover the boxes. They leak. They leaked from day one. On April 5, legislators will vote whether to grind Rudolph’s multilayered concrete composition to dust and build anew.
Needless to say, preservationists are alarmed at the prospect of losing yet another Rudolph building in Orange County, having just lost the battle to save Chorley Elementary School in nearby Middletown. Chorley’s delicately exposed trusses beneath opposing angled rooftops gave that building a birdlike appearance. If Chorley looks as though it were about to take flight, then the monumental effort at the government center seems to convey the gravity of complex decisions being made inside, particularly through the variety of concrete. Several distinct combinations of aggregate and formwork butt up against corduroy split block.
But after Hurricane Irene swept through last August, the mechanical room flooded and the county’s executive director, Eddie Diana—who had already been proposing a new building—had had enough. The building was vacated and the push to tear it down went into full gear. “I would never ask to take a building down because of what it looks like,” said Diana. “But I would for its effectiveness and the ongoing problems, or concerns for the building’s health and of the workers’ health.”
On March 5, Diana proposed a $75 million replacement of the 153,600-square-foot building in a style that would be more in keeping with the village’s colonial past. At 175,000 square feet, the proposed complex is scaled back from an earlier 330,000-square-foot proposal. That proposal would have brought all county government offices to one locale and closed several satellite buildings at a projected cost of $136 million. But preservationists argued that closing the older buildings would sap village street life, to say nothing of county coffers. Diana said the new plan addresses the concern by allocating $10 million to renovate existing buildings, with the total cost now coming in at $85 million.
Diana also presented two renovation estimates. One from LaBella Associates adds 22,000 square feet to the Rudolph building for $67 million. Another from Holt Construction, without an addition, came in at nearly $77.5 million. Both propose gutting the Rudolph interior and bringing the entire complex up to current energy codes and ADA standards. “The report pandered to Eddie Diana’s cause,” said Sean Khorsandi, co-director of the Paul Rudolph Foundation. “All the numbers for renovation were inflated, and the numbers for a new building are not qualified.”
In a subcommittee, legislator Myrna Kemnitz attempted to allocate $40,000 for another study, but the proposal was tabled until the LaBella report came out. Kemnitz said superficial efforts were made, such as core concrete samples and mold tests, but a true forensic study with recommendations was never completed. Instead, the emphasis was placed on new construction.
Frank Sanchis, director of U.S. Programs at the World Monuments Fund, gave LaBella the benefit of the doubt. “They don’t appear to be incompetent, but they just don’t understand the building,” he said. During a February 27 hearing, Kemintz said she had asked LeBella reps if they ever went to see other nearby Rudolph buildings, such as IBM or Yale, to better understand Rudolph’s significance and dwindling legacy. The answer was no.