The perplexing yet bewitching jumble of concrete boxes known as Paul Rudolph's Orange County Government Center in Goshen, New York has been granted a reprieve. The county legislature voted 11 to 10 against a bond issue which would have funded the demolition of the Paul Rudolph designed building. Preservationists and architects have been following the project closely, and have made compelling arguments against the demolition and in favor of renovation. No word yet on whether the county will move to renovate the building, which suffers from leaks as well as damage from tropical storm Irene.
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While Paul Rudolph aficionados are in a holding pattern until Thursday, awaiting news from Goshen about whether the Orange County Government Center will be torn down, Design Observer's Mark Lamster has put another endangered Rudolph onto their radar. The Sarasota school board in Florida is considering a renovation of Sarasota High School that would enclose its stepped entryway and canopy. Lamster warns that the alteration "would utterly compromise the Rudolph's vision and the work itself."
Paul Rudolph’s Orange County Government Center moved a tentative step closer to demolition yesterday after a subcommittee of the county legislature approved $14.6 million to finance the design of a new $75 million complex. With the subcommittee vote cleared, a full vote by the legislature is expected on May 3. But committee chair Michael Pilmeier’s vote breaking a four to four split hints that the plan may not have the two-third majority of the legislature needed to proceed. Over the past month preservationists fanned out of over the county. DOCOMOMO New York Tristate held three meetings, Rudolph scholar Timothy Rohan gave a lecture in Newberg this past Sunday, and in Goshen today designLAB will deliver a presentation about a their Rudolph renovation project at UMass Dartmouth. The building hasn’t been lacking for attention from the mainstream press either. After delivering front-page coverage, The New York Times held an online debate under the rather editorial heading “Are Some Buildings Too Ugly to Save?” Not surprisingly, The Times got its most vocal opponent on Brutalism from the masthead of The New Criterion, a conservative monthly arts journal. “Brutalist style — which uses raw concrete or other materials to make art galleries look like fallout shelters,” wrote Criterion contributor Anthony M. Daniels. Key to the tight vote was republican Al Buckbee crossing party lines to vote against the proposal. And there’s the rub. As ArtsJournal.com’s Lee Rosenbaum pointed out after the Times article, the Orange County debate essentially pits Democrats against Republicans, though Republicans took pains to distance themselves from the role of aesthetic conservatives. “I would never ask to take a building down because of what it looks like,” county executive director Eddie Diana told AN back in March. Diana attempted to couch his decision to destroy the Brutalist masterwork in conservative financial terms only after his initial $136 million proposal was rejected by the Legislature. The new plan costs $75 million. Meanwhile, estimates for renovating the Rudolph building continued to climb, with one estimate reaching $77 million. Plans for the new county building call for a 175,000 square foot facility. In a letter to Diana, designLAB’s Robert Miklos noted that the Dartmouth building added 22,000 square feet to an 155,000 existing square foot building, making a total of 177,000 square feet, but at a cost of $35 million. Times-Herald reported that number is probably closer to $43 million after design fees and furnishings are factored in—but the number is still less than the Diana proposal. Plenty question the proposal’s financing, with scrutiny centered on bond arrangements and whether a new building qualifies for financing from FEMA (the building sustained damage in Tropical Storm Irene). Yesterday, before voting against the proposal in the committee, legislator Myrna Kemnitz told AN, “You can’t use FEMA monies to build new.” Kemenitz, a consistent critic of the project, said that aesthetic arguments aside, the finances just don't add up. “The entire project was put out there by politicians who are willing to go on the premise that people will never check.”
Recently AN put a spotlight on Rudolph's threatened Orange County Government Center, through photos and reporting, and many others are coming to defense of this challenging and bewitching building. The World Monuments Fund declared the building a culturally significant site, and a local group is protesting the planned demolition. Bloomberg's James S. Russell just visited, declaring it, "insistently attention-grabbing in photos, the building reveals a surprising delicacy in person. Rudolph’s complicated shape-making domesticates the building’s institutional scale." Will prominent architects from around the country rally to around Rudolph's singular creation? Time is running out.
[This photo essay accompanies AN's recent article on the pending demise of Paul Rudolph's Orange County Government Center in New York. Read more here.] The day before Orange County Executive Director Eddie Diana presented plans for replacing architect Paul Rudolph's Orange County Government Center, AN took a trip up to Goshen, New York with photographer Aracelis Diamantis to check out the scene. Diamantis ditched her SLR in favor of a Hipstimatic app on her iPhone. The effect gave the building a haunted-Brutalist-house quality and amplified the the architect's multi-textured use of concrete. Click on a thumbnail to launch the slideshow.
194X–9/11: American Architects and the City The Museum of Modern Art 11 West 53rd St. Through January 2 Prompted by the United States’ entrance into World War II in 1942, Architectural Forum magazine commissioned pioneering architects to imagine and plan a postwar American city. At the tenth anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, 194X-9/11: American Architects and the City features the plans, renderings, and sculpture of Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, Louis Kahn, Paul Rudolph, and Rem Koolhaas and their ideas for cities of the future. Rarely displayed works, such as Mies van der Rohe’s collage Museum for a Small City Project (1942), above, reveal plans for cultural centers and urban life in uncertain times.
Solar Cycle. The Dutch dream up a ways to capture latent energy beneath bike tires. Go East Young Man. With the economy in the States still somewhat sour, the good news for West Coast firms is in the East, the Far East, writes AOL's Daily Finance. AIA's Scott Frank spills the goods for Danny King. Walled Out. It was hard to miss the spirited crowd on Chambers Street yesterday as three City Council committees held a joint hearing on Wal-Mart’s proposed move into New York held. Wal-Mart was a no show. The line to get in stretched down the block. And Council Speaker Quinn blasted away. Today's Daily News editorial found the whole drama, well, dramatic. Polar Opposites. Ben Thompson and Paul Rudolph were cut from the same Modernist cloth, under the influence of Gropius, but the two took different paths. One was from the north the other from the south, one standoffish, the other a team player. One a sculpture, the other an entertainer. In Architecture Boston, David N. Fixler explores how their forms function.
The latest Upper East Side landmark isn't another of its signature rowhouses, but rather what's atop one of those brownstones. Yesterday, the New York Landmarks Preservation Commission unanimously approved landmark status for mid-century architect Paul Rudolph's less-than-context-sensitive home at 23 Beekman Place. Rudolph moved into the 4-story on which the addition sits in 1961 and added his three-story design in 1977, modifying the house throughout his life. Located between East 50th and 51st Street, 23 Beekman Place has been moving through the landmark process for over a year, and its approval marks an emerging phase in historic preservation. Now that many examples of modern architecture are getting older, they are becoming fair game for landmark protection, a notion the New York Observer says can sometimes be full of contradiction:
And yet there remains a certain alienness to a building like 23 Beekman. In a way, it is an oxymoron, a cancer atop a truly "historic building." The very idea of a modern landmark is itself a contradiction in terms because modernism sought to wipe away history. Consider Robert Moses, Le Corbusier, even Rudolph, all trying to eradicate history, to defeat nature, end poverty and blight, addressing all of the world's ills through their work. Where better to recognize this tension than a building with such a clearly split personality? And yet all of that Utopian zeal failed as much as it succeeded, so much so that many of the buildings it left behind are now unloved, even hated. This makes modernist preservation all the more essential and immediate. Not only have these buildings-beyond-time themselves aged (some quite severely), but they have become examples of architectural idealism, experimentation, and failure. Thus they are something to be saved, even as they sought to wipe out their forebears.
Quick! Name that Building! That's right, it's time for another round of our favorite game. You can probably name the architect, thanks to the ribbons of his signature corduroy concrete, to say nothing of the cantilevered passageways and swooping staircases. So it's Paul Rudolph. But which of his masterworks? It's not a famous one, so you'll probably never guess. Okay, you got it. It's the Hurley Building of his Government Service Center in Boston. It's an impressive star turn for an architect whose buildings haven't faired so well of late. And yet it's good to know that when those Madison Avenue Fatcats still need a structure to shoot on that screams hip futurism, Rudolph's the go-to guy. Dude's still got it.
While the big news out of the LPC today was the approval of 980 Madison, there were quite a few noteworthy developments as well, namely the designation of three new landmarks and the calendering of 23 Beekman Place, better known as the Paul Rudolph house, which is the first step in the designation process. Poking fun at her fellow colleagues who had been skeptical of the Norman Foster designed addition at 980 Madison, which had been approved earlier in the day, commissioner Margery Perlmutter quipped, "Sometimes a rooftop addition does become a landmark." Rudolph's quixotic construction was completed in 1977, though he would revise it, like much of his work, until his death two decades later. It sits atop an otherwise typical Upper East Side brownstone built in 1900, and it also happened to be occupied by Catherine Cornell, who bought the rowhouse in the 1920s, just as she was becoming a major star on Broadway. Winking back at Perlmutter, commissioner Pablo Vengoechea remarked that were Rudolph applying for the addition today, there is no way the commission would support it. It was also pointed out that the interiors, once a testing ground for Rudolph's design ideas, would not be landmark in light of a rather drastic renovation earlier this decade. As for the new landmarks, they are the former Jarmulowsky Bank building at the corner of Canal Street and Orchard Street, the Ralph and Ann Van Wyck Mead House on Second Avenue near 7th Street, and the Lamartine Place Historic District, a contiguous row of houses on West 29th Street between 8th and 9th avenues. The first is, as the name suggests, the former 12-story headquarters of a Lower East Side bank built in 1911-1912 in the Beaux Arts style out of limestone and brick. It was praised by the commissioners for being a monumental structure in an otherwise low-rise neighborhood, which is perhaps why it is currently on the market for many, many millions of dollars. Perhaps the building was built because someone tried to cash an equally large check at the bank's former location in 1905. The Mead House happens to be the world's oldest halfway house for women, having been bought by the Womens Prisoners Association in 1874, a decade after the townhouses construction. Despite the ominous sounding name, it is this uninterrupted ownership that helped keep the house intact for so long. As commission chair Robert Tierney put it, "The strands of history that flow through this house are amazing." Finally, the Lamartine Place Historic District [PDF] protects a row of houses in Chelsea originally developed by William Torrey and Cyrus Mason in the 1840s. In the proceeding years, two of the houses would become important stops on the Underground Railroad, one of which was attacked during the notorious draft riots 1863. Many of the Greek Revival buildings still stand, some even relatively intact, but two were considered so altered, they were removed from the district. "This is an important row and a very important reminder of the draft riots," Vengoechea said, adding that he hoped this bit of history could somehow be incorporated into the site.
One could make a living chronicling the iniquities visited upon the work of Paul Rudolph (lord knows we certainly have). From modest tract homes to cutting edge office towers, the trail-blazing, highly influential architect's work has not fared well of late. Of the handful already demolished, as many are on the chopping block, and it has become an ongoing struggle for the Paul Rudolph Foundation to protect what's left. One of the better projects to come along was the expansion of Rudolph's Art & Architecture Building at Yale, where he taught for so long. But it now turns out that that was not the only renovation of the great architect's work going on in New Haven. ArchNewsNow pointed us to a story in yesterday's Yale Daily News about the Sigma Phi Epsilon fraternity's renovation to what was once Rudolph's own New Haven home. According to the YDN, the fraternity spent $25,000 bringing the house up to code, while eliminating--inadvertently or not--many of Rudolph's signature design features, such as his customary cantilevered stair case.
Matt Eisen ’10, the president of SigEp, said many elements of Rudolph’s original design had become safety hazards to the brothers living in the house and the students who flocked to the fraternity’s parties. “I wish we could make it safe and retain architectural elements, but we had to take cautionary steps before an accident actually happened,” said Eisen, the executive editor for the News, noting that most of the fraternity’s brothers are probably not aware of the house’s significance. [...] The renovation project involved setting the stairs in sturdy steel frames with marble inserts, removing the fireplace and a platform on the ground floor — which Eisen described as “a tripping hazard that served no purpose,” — as well as stabilizing the balcony area that was nearly collapsing. Bob Esposito, the property manager SigEp contracted for the project, reiterated that the main goal of the renovation was to upgrade the house to current design standards. “Building codes and architectural tastes have changed a lot since Rudolph’s time,” he said. “We wanted to make the house easier to maintain and more user friendly while keeping a great percentage of Rudolph’s original design intact.”The thing is, it remains unclear whether the building was actually unsafe, or simply unsafe to the greek brothers and sisters there-in. A glimpse of the pre-renovation building shows that it does not appear unsound, and perhaps only got that way after neglectful care. Indeed, in its own report on the story, the Paul Rudolph Foundation said that the house had been well cared for until recently, though the fraternity refused admittance to determine its most recent state prior to the renovation:
Through the various owners, and up until recently, many elements like the floating stairs were retained. A clearer example of which can be seen in Rudolph's Halston Residence on 63rd Street for the famous Fashion magnate. Much like his 23 Beekman Place residence which would follow (and he would intervene into and out of for 30 years), this house was a work in progress and always up for alteration and innovation.That Rudolph primarily modified the buildings interior--there was a a rearyard addition--means that the latest renovations leave almost no traces of the original building, as the foundation notes. "The current look, all decked-out in Ikea, with "state-of-the-art" projection TV, as photographed by Calgary Leveen of the YDN is hardly recognizable as Rudolph's one-time home and can no longer be realistically considered as 'Rudolph space.'" And now we are obliged to make a snide remark about the thuggish clumsiness of the debauched Yalies who could not help but fall down the elegant stairs at parties, and thus defiled a modernist masterpiece. Except that Rudolph accolate, Yalie, and architecture school dean Robert A.M. Stern, in speaking with the YDN, does it for us.
“The house was spectacular, innovative, glamorous,” said School of Architecture Dean Robert A.M. Stern ARC ’65. “It’s too bad they modified the cantilever steps, but it’s true that there are safety concerns without the railings, and at frat parties — it gets a bit lively, shall we say.”