If you like concrete brutalism, you’ll love the work of Paul Rudolph. In the mid 20th century, the American architect peppered the US and beyond with gutsy concrete structures, his most famous being Yale’s Art and Architecture Building, since renamed Rudolph Hall.
But it’s another Rudolph creation that’s been hogging the limelight in recent weeks. His Orange County Government Centre in New York State has been disused since it suffered a flood a few years ago, and there was a campaign to get the thing torn down and replaced with a bland traditional pastiche, or ‘Tea Party Colonial’ as it’s dubbed. This would have cost $136m, let alone the cost of losing an iconic monument.
As the Wold Monuments Fund says: “The structure stands as a testament to the era of late modernism, when civic architecture was forging new avenues in design and construction. Its striking Brutalist style exterior is characterised by massive, textured concrete blocks and large expanses of glass. The three-winged, three-storied building creates complex interiors that divide administrative, judicial, and other government functions. Natural light bathes the space through clerestory windows along 87 multi-level roofs.” But it wasn’t to the liking of the county executives, with whom Brutalism had fallen out of fashion.
However, at the eleventh hour, it seems, the 43-year-old centre’s fortunes have been reversed. In a surprise move, Orange County’s Republican and Democrat law-makers joined forces last week to pass a proposal to repair and renovate the structure. That will cost a mere $67m. And think of the environmental arguments too – knocking down and starting from scratch puts way more pressure on the planet than a well-considered revamp. And anything that puts Rudolph's groundbreaking architecture onto the world stage in a postive light is just fine by us.
You can see two of Rudolph's structures in the wonderful book Concrete - his Temple Street Parking Garage, Connecticut and his astonishing Government Service Center in Boston (1971) of which he said: "I think every curve and line has to have real meaning; it cannot be arbitrary".