Brutalist Paul Rudolph’s Orange County Government Center saved from demolition at the last minute

Iconic building by architect featured in our book Concrete is spared after Democrats and Republicans join forces
Orange County Government Center - Paul Rudolph
Orange County Government Center - Paul Rudolph


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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.

 

Orange County Government Center constuction - Paul Rudolph

Orange County Government Center constuction - Paul Rudolph

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.

 

Paul Rudolph's Orange Country Government Center in happier days

Paul Rudolph's Orange Country Government Center in happier days

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".


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