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Goshen Commotion: Endanged Rudolph Building Makes NY Times’ Front Page (plus architectural news in my own hometown)

Orange County Government Center, 1971, designed by Paul Rudolph

You might have missed it while you were engaged in feverish holiday preparations (perhaps, as I was, elbow-deep in matzo-farfel stuffing), but a month after CultureGrrl‘s first post on the endangered Paul Rudolph building in Goshen, NY, Robin Pogrebin landed a front-page article in Saturday’s NY Times that provided a detailed, balanced view of both sides in the decimate-or-renovate controversy surrounding the Orange County Government Center.

The County Legislature’s decision on this is expected, next month, Pogrebin reports. In the meantime, we can only hope that this contretemps attracts the attention of the Times’ nominal architecture critic, Michael Kimmelman, whose seems more interested in issuing his own unlikely proposals for redesigning broad swaths of the urbanscape than in the quality and importance of individual buildings. (He’s also just become an art-criticism recidivist, weighing in on the Steins Collect exhibition for the NY Review of Books.)

Unmentioned by Pogrebin (but noted by Bloomberg‘s architecture critic, James Russell, who two and a half weeks ago provided an insightful firsthand appraisal of the endangered Rudolph building) is that this is more than a conflict “between preservationists, who see them [Brutalist buildings] as historic landmarks, and the many people who just see them as eyesores” (in Pogrebin’s words). Robin did also note that this conflict is exacerbated by concerns over costs. But she missed the point that this fight (like seemingly everything else in our politically fractured nation) pits Democrats vs. Republicans.

The Orange County Government Center’s status as a political football was elucidated by local reporter Chris Mckenna in the Times-Herald Record:

Most Republicans likely support [County Executive Edward] Diana‘s $75 million proposal [for a new building on the site of the Rudolph], but he needs Democratic votes as well to succeed.

Meanwhile, in an update published two days before Pogrebin’s piece (but ignored by her), Mckenna also revealed that the only way the County Execitive was able to bring down the cost of the proposed new building to $75 million was “by slashing the space the courts and the clerk’s
office would occupy and generally shrinking the work area the county’s
consultants recommended.”

Mckenna also notes:

All told, Diana cut by 24 percent the space the consultants suggested giving the 20 or so departments that would occupy the 175,000-square-foot office building he proposed. Nearly all departments were scaled back, according to figures the county provided this week….

A Westchester County firm commissioned by opponents of Diana’s plans recently estimated it would cost $35.3 million to gut and completely rebuild the inside of the Government Center.

The county’s consultants said last year it would cost $67.2 million to renovate the complex and add 22,000 square feet to it.

Either way, preserving this architectural treasure would yield more space for less money.

The World Monuments Fund, which had put the Goshen’s Rudolph on its 2012 Watch List of endangered cultural-heritage sites, has now posted an online petition urging the County Legislature to save this building.

I’ve signed it. And in another bit of archi-activism, I recently penned a Letter to the Editor (scroll down to second letter) of my local newspaper, Bergen County’s Record, blasting a monstrosity about to be inflicted upon my own community, adjacent to the already traffic-clogged entrance to the George Washington Bridge.

At the public hearings, I dubbed these low-quality, high-profile, 47-story glass slabs the “Fort Lee Twin Towers”:

Rendering for “The Center at Fort Lee,” designed by Howard Elkus, unanimously approved on Mar. 26 by the Fort Lee Planning Board

Happily, the western portion of this 16-acre parcel—a vacant, weed-strewn lot for more than 45 years—is being overseen by a different developer, Tucker Development Corp., which has engaged a world-class architect for the task—Bernardo Fort-Brescia of Arquitectonica.

Among his farflung projects, Fort-Brescia designed the well received (including by me) new facility for the Bronx Museum of the Arts…


…and the recently completed 63-story MiMA residential tower in midtown Manhattan. In addition to rental apartments, that building houses the Rockwell Group-designed Yotel (a trendy hotel) and the Frank Gehry-designed Signature Theater.

Here’s my recent (very brief) on-location video about MiMA:

Formal presentations to our borough’s Planning Board of the plans for Arquitectonica’s portion of Fort Lee’s project (named “Hudson Lights”) are not yet scheduled but are expected to begin soon.

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