Consider two examples of Capitol architecture. The 1899 New York State Capitol is heralded as a triumph. The
But I would also recommend another nearby capitol, the Orange County Government Center. Equally grand, drafty, challenging, and detailed, it was designed by Paul Rudolph and opened in 1970. It is the last remaining work by an internationally renowned modern architect in the county, but when the Government Center appears in the news, it is most often being condemned as outdated, costly, and impractical,an architecturally inappropriate eyesore. Rather than imported granite and marble, it was constructed of cast concrete. Where the State Capitol is celebrated for a 56 foot high Assembly Chamber, The Government Center is faulted for the wasted space around open staircases and the thermal loss of its clerestories and large windows.
Paul Rudolph was unique among modernists in successfully winning a number of public contracts, but the fate of his creations is typical. The ideological, aesthetic, and engineering chutzpah of these architects who advanced the art through the Twentieth Century is now derided as kitsch, impractical, or failed. And our historic preservation laws do not provide umbrage for such youngsters: not yet 50 years old, their buildings must fend for themselves against nature and man.
If a building falls down due to poor design in less than 50 years, so be it. But the backlash against modern architecture is often about creating a new legacy by removing a previous one. At Gettysburg National Military Park, the National Park Service tried to destroy celebrated modernist Richard Neutra’s 1961 Cyclorama. They replaced it with a new visitor center, built to look old, on previously undisturbed ground, claiming it to be more appropriate to the site.
Fortunately, while many fail to appreciate plywood, plate-glass, and concrete with the same fervor that they exude for timber, stained glass, and marble, there are a few organizations addressing the importance of our latest inheritance. Learn more about the Recent Past Preservation Network and their efforts to preserve the Cyclorama
The RPPN’s blog post about the Orange County Government Center is
The mission of
The social, political, and engineering context that these buildings represent is a significant part of our national identity. While the nature of the movement and its pioneering use of engineered materials may condemn some of its experiments to rubble, there are enduring examples as well. Take a moment to consider what you haven’t yet,maybe your children’s children will thank you one day!
Photo: Orange County Government Center. Courtesy the Avery Architectural and Fine Arts Library, Columbia University, via the
Chris Pryslopski is Program Director of Marist College’s