Every time I write about yet another Paul Rudolph building under threat, the comments run the gamut from "Rudolph's shameless borrowings kept his work on the cover of architectural magazines of the time, but to hell with poor unfortunates condemned to use his buildings" to " Rip all this junk down, The horrors inflicted upon the urban landscape by Frank Gehry and Paul Rudolph need to be removed and replaced." His work is controversial.
The structure stands as a testament to the era of late modernism, when civic architecture was forging new avenues in design and construction. Its striking brutalist style exterior is characterized by massive, textured concrete blocks and large expanses of glass. The three-winged, three-storied building creates complex interiors that divide administrative, judicial, and other government functions. Natural light bathes the space through clerestory windows along 87 multi-level roofs.
James Russell complains in Bloomberg about poor maintenance practices, but also about how hard it is to maintain such a complex building.
Even with poor lighting and the litter of moving boxes, I could see that the building demands a great deal of its citizen owners. Rudolph conceived every inch in three dimensions, so floors and ceilings terrace up and down in a dizzying number of levels. This topography is neither space efficient nor friendly to those with limited mobility. It isn’t easy to keep so many roof planes free of leaks. Replacing the huge rusting, energy-wasting windows would be costly.
The county executive Edward Diana has estimates of $67 million to renovate and repair and renovate the building. But he would rather knock it down and replace it for $136 million. “It’s about efficiency and effectiveness,” he says. The lower number fixes an architectural classic that couldn't be built today, it would be too complex and expensive; they don't build them like they used to. The replacement is a nonentity. No doubt it will be LEED certified and will take a hundred years to repay the embodied energy of the destruction of the classic and the construction of its replacement.
Paul Rudolph is a hard case; Allison Arieff tries to explain why in Atlantic Cities. Brutalism is seriously out of fashion, just like Victorian and Art Deco once were. Preservationists are out of fashion too, now considered NIMBY elitists standing in the way of progress. Design is clearly out of fashion, and Tea Party Colonial is in, where no doubt everyone will come to meetings in three cornered hats and complain about Agenda 21.
Architect Steve Mouzon has written in the Original Green that for buildings to last, they most be Lovable, Durable, Flexible and Frugal. I must admit that with Paul Rudolph, it is sometimes hard to make a case for any of the four criteria.
But it is also true that in almost every case, to paraphrase Steve, the Greenest concrete is the stuff that's already poured. We shouldn't be so quick with the jackhammer. Sign the petition here and help stop them grinding yet another Paul Rudolph building into dust.