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Tuesday, April 17, 2012

The Controversy of Paul Rudolph and the "Ugly Building"

It's one thing to critic a piece of architecture or art based on personal opinions/feelings but it's another to simply call it "ugly" and stop caring for it.

Paul Rudolph's Orange County Government Center in Goshen, New York has become an "ugly" controversy these days. To an extend that next month -May 2012, might just be the most important month in the building's 45 year long lifetime, as it's fate might sadly (and in my opinion, unreasonably) come to an end. Even though it was approved for demolition about 6years ago, the recession bought the building more time. Today, Orange County executive, Edward Diana, is highly in favor in demolishing it, which may please many residents of the area. But, to what cost?

Photo © Chris Mottalini

A collective group of architectural structures create the city's built environment, which as a result, contribute to building the city's history. Is it truly fair to criticize the work of artists (Architects in my perspective are also artists) so harshly that it ultimately supports the decision of demolishing their work and pretending that it never existed? Architects and artists that have contributed their skills and resources to the development of our living environment, with an intention of making a lasting positive impact. 

Brutalist concrete structures was Paul Rudolph's style, just as Deconstructivism (or post-structuralist) is the nature of Frank Gehry's style. New Yorkers often have mixed feelings about the recently built Beekman Tower (aka the New York by Gehry) in lower Manhattan, as it could perhaps be considered as a misfit to the skyline, or probably a step towards a fresh facade for NYC. Regardless of our judgement of the tower's height, complex curves vs. contrasting simple west side, etc., it's there and it will become an iconic element of NYC's skyline in the near future; Just as the Twin Towers and the Empire State when they were born (though, not as high-profile as the latter two). 

Shreve and Lamb's distinctive Art Deco style for the Empire State quickly became one the most famous symbols of NYC. Is it a success? Yes. Does everyone like it? Probably not 'everyone'. But, after 81 years it still stands as an icon in NYC's history. On the contrary, even though Vanity Fair refers to Gehry's IAC building in Chelsea as one of the most attractive office buildings in world, after 5 years, it still has failed to find a place in many New Yorkers heart. But, has it impacted the built environment in Chelsea? Yes. Is is a success? Maybe. Does everyone like it? Not 'everyone'. 

What is the socioeconomic cost of preserving our city's history vs. losing it? What can we consider as a strong/reasonable rationale in order to justify turning a city's history in to a constantly changing target? Leigh Benton, a resident of Goshen, NY in regards to Rudolph's Government building says: "I just don’t think it fits with the character of the county seat and the village of Goshen... I just thought it was a big ugly building." 

"Ugly". What is an "ugly building"? Is it truly an architecture/art failure, or more of personal analysis of the facade and exterior? 
Merely because the Empire State became such a successful tourist [and local] attraction and the IAC building hasn't, is it fair enough to label the IAC as an "ugly" building? Or is it rather sad and disrespectful to (hypothetically) support the demolition of it (IAC) because it somehow does not meet the "beautiful building" criteria? Should we just simply disregard all the time and skills that an architect put into her/his creation, with the intention of making it a noble addition to the city's history? 

“Preservation is not simply about saving the most beautiful things... It’s about saving those objects that are an important part of our history and whose value is always going to be a subject of debate.” -Mark Wigley, dean of Columbia’s Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation.

Think about it.