Controversy has always surrounded the Orange County Government Center, a monumental complex 50 miles northwest of New York City. It was designed in 1966 in the Brutalist style by Paul Rudolph, the celebrated modern architect who studied with Walter Gropius and was chairman of the Yale School of Architecture from 1958 to 1965. But that simmering controversy has now come to a boil.
A plan is at the ready to alter beyond recognition the provocative-looking complex of three fluted-concrete buildings—made of stacked, extruded volumes with wall-size, eyelike windows suggesting a giant robotic insect. The buildings are connected by bridges at two levels, and between them have no fewer than 87 roofs. There is no traditional “front,” but rather a courtyard with a small grove of trees once reached by a long promenade of stairs, now a ramp.
The complex stands at a remove from downtown Goshen, N.Y., a village of some 5,000 people whose dominant architectural aesthetic is clapboard. On a brilliant blue day last week, standing in a field of snow, the Government Center looked forlorn—it has been shuttered since 2011—but also sturdy thanks to walls made of one-foot-thick “corduroy” concrete, a signature Rudolph treatment.
Fans of Rudolph, of Brutalism—both experiencing a second wave of admirers in recent years—and of midcentury modernism in general are trying to rally to the government center’s defense (more than 2,000 people have signed an online petition to save it) even as emotions about it in Goshen have been conflicted. ….