Cheers: The Orange County Government Center Entry by Katrina Virbitsky

As we’ve seen throughout the month, some buildings are built for celebration – they allow for us to share a moment with friends, or they celebrate moments in time: for instance, the resilience of the Brooklyn Navy Yard, like the perseverance of the Kings County Distillery in the Paymaster Building. Other buildings deserve to be celebrated, but many have been lost to demolition. These buildings celebrated the future, oftentimes they came too soon. Today, I’m going to celebrate the Orange County Government Center in Goshen, New York. If you hurry, you can still see the exposed concrete panels.

The Orange County Government Center was designed by Paul Rudolph in 1963, during his time as dean of the Yale School of Architecture. The building was built for the office and government of Orange County, New York: every department from records to a Department of Motor Vehicles to juvenile court.

Built in the Brutalist style, the complex explored the use of implied space: indoor and outdoor public spaces were interconnected in a planned sequence. The building itself mimicked the governmental democracy. To quote Zaha Hadid, an early supporter of the building’s preservation, “There is an integrity within the design that displays a commitment to engagement and connectivity. As a center for civic governance, it enacted democracy through spatial integration, not through the separation of elected representatives from their constituents”.

The grid of the indoor and outdoor spaces formed a rigid system of intersection solid walls and windows, giving the complex courtyard spaces and interior views. The extending roofs of cast concrete emphasized the grid. The building was exposed concrete, adorned with split-rib concrete blocks, and it employed paint and fabric to brighten the interior spaces.

As early as the 1990s, the building was deemed unfit for use due to leaking roofs and no maintenance. Debates over the structure continued for the next twenty years: New York’s State Historic Preservation Office found it eligible for the National Register of Historic Places, and in 2011, it was added to the World Monuments Fund Watch List. The county rejected several plans to reuse the building, including one proposal to convert the building to artist studios, and under pressure from the state’s Office of Court Administration in 2013 moved to a temporary courtroom space.

In 2015, Orange County legislators decided on a destructive rebuild of the Orange County Government Center, and confirmed they will move ahead with demolition and reconstruction. The plan severely destructs the harmony of the complex by stripping away its corrugated concrete and glass facade, and will remove one of the building’s three sections to replace it with a new structure.

LOCATION: Goshen, Orange County, New York
ARCHITECT: Paul Rudolph