People can be forgiven for not realizing that one of the masterpieces of Brutalism, an architectural style with a name that isn’t exactly soft and fuzzy, is just north of New York City in Orange County, New York. But then again you may not need to remember that fact since the Paul Rudolph-designed Orange County Government Center (aka the “masterpiece”) may be facing demolition very soon in order to be replaced by an unoriginal colonial-wannabee structure that looks like the architectural equivalent of clipart.

Designed in 1963 and finished in 1971, the Orange County building is a benchmark of Brutalism, which is known for its serial use of raw concrete (béton brut in French, hence the style’s name) and large open interior spaces. There have been many rumblings for years about the building and its leaks, its poor roofing, its single-pane glass and other flaws typical of 40-year-old buildings but this time it appears to be the final straw for the local county government.

The building has been unused since last summer when Hurricane Irene swept through the area and caused the mechanical room to flood and “the county’s executive director, Eddie Diana — who had already been proposing a new building — had had enough,” according to the Architect’s Newspaper. “The building was vacated and the push to tear it down went into full gear.”

Though not everyone is happy with the county executive’s plans to demolish the historic structure. For example:

A grassroots organization called the Taxpayers of Orange County is opposed to the demolition, saying that renovation of the brutalist structure would save $40 to $50 million over tearing it down and rebuilding.  Renovations would run about $20 to $40 million, as opposed to $75 million for demolition and new construction.

The final hearing about the building, which is on the World Monuments Fund Watch List of endangered buildings, is March 25 and will take place at The Recreation Center at 134 Pine Street in Port Jervis, New York.

Maybe it’s fitting that the fate of a Brutalist building would be, well, not very nice.

Some links worth a look:

Image captions: Top is Paul Rudolph’s Orange County Government Center and below it is an early proposal for the new Orange Country government building (both via Architect’s Newspaper).

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Hrag Vartanian

Hrag Vartanian is editor-in-chief and co-founder of Hyperallergic. You can follow him at @hragv.

5 replies on “Masterpiece of Brutalism May Face Brutal Fate”

  1. Well, lets face it.. Brutalism is an intentionally intimidating style of architecture and it is frankly inappropriate for government buildings.  I don’t like the replacement that is proposed, but such government buildings are there for the people, not to intimidate the people.  Anyone who has walked through Government Square in Boston can attest to the feeling of unease the giant brutalist (actually neo-brutalist, I think) structure there creates.  Its an interesting and intense form of architecture but its simply not appropriate to government buildings.

    1. Well, if its the way it looks that is the problem, then do something with that. There are great qualities in this building besides its appearance. I would vote for a competition on reuse of the old building structure. That could be a really interesting project, and its environmentally sustainable and probably a lot cheaper.

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