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Rueful about Rudolph: Bloomberg’s James Russell Goes to Goshen

James Russell, Bloomberg’s architecture critic

James Russell, Bloomberg‘s indispensable architecture critic, has done what I’ve yet to do—taken a roadtrip to Goshen, NY, to eyeball the endangered Paul Rudolph-designed Orange County Government Center.

The question of whether Rudolph’s “magnetic composition” should be knocked down is “not an easy call,” he said, because the building has fallen into such disrepair. Its compromised condition is due not only to last September’s floods but also to the county’s chronic neglect and deferred maintenance, according to Russell. And Rudolph himself, whose multi-roofed jumble of concrete boxes has sprung multiple leaks, cannot be absolved.

I’m an ardent admirer of both alluring architecture and superb writing. Rudolph’s creation is the former; Russell’s report, the latter. Any building that inspires poetic passages like these must deserve to be preserved:

He [Rudolph] choreographed an unveiling of the building. Inside, huge plate-glass windows light a dramatic ascent up sets of stairs, with balconies zooming overhead, a stairway posed contrapuntally, and shafts of concrete rising to mysterious heights, set aglow by clerestory windows.

The intricacy of Rudolph’s spatial gymnastics entices without overwhelming. He dignifies the mundane tasks of paying taxes, filing permits, and appearing in court.

That said, Russell is not blind to the building’s limitations:

Rudolph conceived every inch in three dimensions, so floors and ceilings terrace up and down in a dizzying number of levels. This topography is neither space efficient nor friendly to those with limited mobility.

It isn’t easy to keep so many roof planes free of leaks. Replacing the huge rusting, energy-wasting windows would be costly.

Russell’s report has the added value of his own photos, giving us views of the interior of the building.

County Executive Edward Diana told Russell that replacing this building…


…with something like this building…


…”is about efficiency and effectiveness.”

It’s also about majesty vs. mediocrity.

In other Goshen Rudolph news, Ben Haley, communications director of the World Monuments Fund, which had put the Orange County center on its 2012 Watch List of endangered cultural-heritage sites, told me this yesterday:

We are continuing to advocate for the Rudolph building. We are working on an online petition that will go the legislators that should go live this week. (There is a petition [my link, not his] at the moment started by the Taxpayers of OC, but this doesn’t go to the legislature.) We are also going to try to get an editorial published in the Times Herald-Record very soon.

Reminder: The Save the Orange County Government Center advocacy group will conduct a public forum this Sunday, 2-4 p.m., at the Recreation Center, 134 Pike St., Port Jervis, NY.

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