For years, the small village of Goshen, New York, has been making national headlines as its legislators vigorously debated the fate of the Paul Rudolph–designed Orange County Government Center. To lovers of modern architecture around the country the 1960s-era brutalist work, with its protruding corrugated concrete cubes, is an iconic marker of midcentury design. But to many locals the leaky building is an eyesore, a poorly functioning relic not worthy of the praise bestowed upon it.
The center has not been a functional building since 2011 when Hurricane Irene swept through town. Over the following years, as the shuttered building continued to deteriorate, legislators argued over nearly every aspect of Rudolph’s structure—its use, its condition, its architectural merit, and its future.
During this time, Boston-based designLAB—an architecture firm with experience revamping Rudolph’s work—was tasked with finding a new use for the building. Along with updating its interior spaces and systems, repointing brick, and fixing leaky roofs, the firm planned to update the central courtyard and give the building new entranceways while preserving the building’s concrete bones. The plan died when designLAB removed itself from the project in August, citing too many compromises forced upon its design.
With designLAB out, New York City–based architect Gene Kaufman stepped into the fray. He offered to buy the government center for $5 million and convert it into an arts and entertainment space. Kaufman would then design a new government center on the footprint of the current building’s parking lot. But in January, Orange County Executive Steven Neuhaus vetoed legislation that would have made the sale possible.
In March, democratic legislators failed to override the veto, paving the way for a scheme led by Clark Patterson Lee (CPL). CPL’s renovation would swap out the center’s original facade with “thermally insulated concrete,” replace old windows, install new roofs, and renovate interior spaces while keeping much of the existing concrete exposed. The project would also include knocking down one of Rudolph’s three pavilions and replacing it with a glassy new structure that New York Times architecture critic Michael Kimmelman described as “a big, soulless glass box.” Dan Webre, the co-director of the Paul Rudolph Foundation, is similarly not pleased with the design. “It is not really a contrast that enhances [the building],” he said. “It is just sort of a generic replacement facade.” CPL did not respond to AN’s request to discuss the design.
Adding to the controversy surrounding the county’s renovation plan is its significant cost. The Times Herald-Record reported that two demolition bids received for the project were almost double the $3.9 million figure presented by CPL. Either one of those higher bids would push the cost of the entire project north of $70 million.
While the lengthy legislative process seems to have wrapped up, the battle might not be over just yet; local attorney Michael Sussman sued the county over its plan in late March. The Chronicle reported that in a press conference, Sussman claimed there was a conflict of interest with the plan, noting that the legislature’s former chair of the Physical Services Committee, Leigh Benton, was offered a job with CPL. Benton reportedly paid a fine and left the firm after these issues were raised. Sussman also alleged that Neuhaus wasted public funds by vetoing the Kaufman purchase plan. A spokesperson for Neuhaus told the Chronicle that the lawsuit had no legal merit.
In the meantime, construction on Rudolph’s Government Center is expected to start in a matter of months.