We love a building that has an air of controversy about it, and no building has stirred quite so many passionate opinions – for and against- as the now-shuttered Orange County Government Center in Goshen, NY. One of our FB fans called it a “fantastic visual design,” while another called it “bleak,” and yet another chimed in by saying “it really should be torn down,” adding, “It’s the ugliest building in Goshen.” To those who see nothing but sticks and bricks, the building is an eyesore and a money pit. To those who can see past its obvious “issues” the Orange County Government Center is an asset worth saving.
So which is it: beauty or beast? To those with a taste for modern architecture, the OCGC is a prized possession – something to cherish and protect. Designed by famed architect Paul Rudolph in 1963 and built in 1967, the OCGC is a classic example of the “brutalist” style pioneered by influential architects Le Corbusier, Mies Van Der Rohe and Frank Lloyd Wright. In the brutalist vernacular, functionality is the primary focus in design, with a deliberate use of raw materials like molded concrete and an eschewing of showy, unnecessary adornments. Concrete slabs, steel beams and elements of the exposed infrastructure tended to make these buildings look austere and foreboding – at least to some. To others, they represent a real break from the frills and filigree of earlier styles.
While people can debate the architectural and aesthetic merits of the building, one thing is certain – the OCGC has had its share of problems and costly ones at that. It was so heavily damaged by a storm in 1970 that a tarpaulin needed to be stretched across the entire roof. Another report stated that each of the buildings 87 individual roofs leaked. In 2011, Hurricane Irene wrought so much flood damage the OCGC was closed for a week. This flooding led to a pervasive mold problem. More flooding later the same year caused the building to be closed again and prompted legislators to take a hard look at whether the OCGC should stay or go. An undated poll in the Times-Herald Record Online showed that of 500 respondents, almost 41 percent felt a new building should replace the OCGC; 30 percent felt the building should be repaired; and another 30 percent voted to rent other existing space. Looked at another way, this poll showed that a majority of people (60 percent) felt the building was worth preserving, with 40 percent wishing it would just go away.
Adding to the list of supporters was New York’s State Historic Preservation Office and the National Registers of Historic Places, both deeming it worthy of preserving. Citing its architectural merit, the OCGC was also listed by the World Monument Fund as an at-risk site.
Perhaps responding to these pleas, or perhaps after seeing that renovation would cost substantially less than demolition and rebuilding (a cost of $114 million, according to the Times-Herald), in December of 2013, the decision was made to earmark $67 million for an overhaul of the Orange County Government Center, ending a divisive debate and harkening a new era for this compelling, controversial building.