Form forces function: Part 4, Who sets the building-code rules?

February 20, 2015 | Architecture, Brutalism, Goshen, Government, Maintenance, Orange County (NY), Paul Rudolph, Renovation, US News, Utilities | No comments 275 views

 [Continued from yesterday’s Part 3 and the preceding Part 1 and Part 2.]

By: David A. Smith

In yesterday’s Part 3, we climbed onto the roofs of Paul-Rudolph-designed Orange County Government Center, discovering that (at least according to the building’s owner and occupant) all 84 of them leak.


Core sample from roof: insulation saturated with (stale) water

Sources used in this post

Defending Brutalism (2013 article by David Hay; navy blue font)

New York Times (April 7, 2012; brown font)

Physical condition assessment, OCGC (May, 2013; brick red font)

New York Times (July 6, 2014; pastel blue font)

Architectural Record (December 16, 2014; lavender font)

The New York Times (January 27, 2015);

Wikipedia entry (accessed February 9, 2015; emerald green font)

Even less encouraging is that when the roofs aren’t leaking, the interiors, especially the office portions, are ill-suited for their current and future use.

As Modernist buildings reach middle age, many of the stark structures that once represented the architectural vanguard are showing signs of wear, setting off debates around the country between preservationists, who see them as historic landmarks, and the many people who just see them as eyesores.

I am not one of those to condemn a building simply because it has become unaesthetic according to current taste, or even to bulldoze it solely because it’s unaesthetic on any taste whatsoever. 


Trellick Tower, West London

This I’d condemn because the elevator/ corridor layouts are an invitation to muggings

Rather, this issue isn’t what such buildings are seen as but what they can be used for. 

But Mr. Benton, the county legislator, called it “a world monument to inefficiency.” Each camp has its own estimate for how much it will cost to renovate the center — the preservation side says about $35 million, the county says $65 million.

I think they’re both too low.  Experience shows, with respect to rehab projects especially on the public dime, that the actual cost is always higher than the highest estimate by any estimator – because the one thing one knows, when opening up an existing building, is that there will be surprises inside.


Not guaranteed to be pleasant, either!

For an additional $20 million, county officials say, they would be able to build a new center (probably traditional) and to improve several other county buildings.

Further, unstated but likely omnipresent, we would be rid of this ongoing management/ maintenance headaches and risks.  The building’s structural configuration and construction make it difficult to use effectively, whereas a more standard configuration, using more adaptable material, would not only be able to build in new technology (e.g. higher electrical loads, broadband connections), it could start from scratch with a more flexible internal arrangement.

2F. Public buildings are not allowed down-time

Completed in 1967 [sic; 1970], the building has long been plagued by a leaky roof and faulty ventilation system and, more recently, by mold; it was closed last year after it was damaged by storms, including Tropical Storm Irene.

Public buildings can’t close for extended periods because government can’t stop for extended periods.  When a building can be forcibly closed due to structural or legal/ regulatory reasons, that’s not an inconvenience, it is potentially a mortal wound to the building’s viability.

In 2011, flood damage from Hurricane Irene closed the building for over a week.

As previously mentioned, concrete buildings do leak – or to be more precise, every precast-concrete building I’ve ever encountered has leaked, to the point where nobody in affordable housing builds with precast concrete any more, because the joins are simply unfixable over time (settling, expansion-contraction, concrete cracking, and so on).


A trifecta: concrete, steel, and rubber, all in contact with each other

The day after it reopened, the remnants of Tropical Storm Lee deluged the area, and on September 8, it was closed again until further notice.[5] The following week, Diana pressed county legislators to make a decision soon on whether to renovate the building or restore it.[6]

So it was shut down in late 2011, and remains shut today, three and a quarter years’ later.  That’s an enormous disruption and cost to the county.

As of year-end [2011], the county—under pressure from the state’s Office of Court Administration (OCA)—announced an emergency plan to open temporary courtroom space nearby in January, while development of a two-year restoration project proceeds.[8]

Worse still, the building’s location in central Goshen is part of a multi-purpose government-office campus (26 acres), so to privatize this building would ‘give away’ land that might be needed for a future government purpose.  That may be sensible but it’s irrevocable and it’s understandable county officials wouldn’t want to do that.


The complex from the air: note remnants of previous buildings

The majority of the site has been disturbed and developed over the years and multiple prior structures razed to allow construction of the current Government Center (completed in 1970) and the Court House Building (completed in 2001).

Indeed, building the new Court House Building, currently connected physically to the Government Center, is a typical persistence-of-vision adaptive reuse of the land and makes it that much less likely the OCGC land can be used for anything other than government buildings.

Near the end of the year the [New York State Office of Court Administration, OCA] sent [County Executive] Diana a strongly worded letter complaining that his office had not yet informed them as to the county’s plans to replace closed courtrooms. “Our judges and staff are doing the best that they can, sharing courtrooms and chambers in other facilities, staggering appointment calendars and delaying trials,” said Ronald Younkins, chief of operations for the OCA. “The situation is unacceptable and unfair to the judges, court staff, litigants, the bar, jurors and the public at large.”[9]

Thus, for Orange County’s government, delay in redevelopment has massive costs, some of which can be measured in money, some of which cannot.  So in weighing the cost-benefit of preserving/ renovating the building, the time value of the lost-opportunity-cost or business-maintenance workarounds has to be considered, and has not been quantified in the simplistic gross-price-to-gross-price comparisons.

2G. Public buildings have to meet ADA and other laws

In addition to being effectively in continuous use, public buildings also must be accessible and accommodating to everyone in the public, and that means issues or concerns irrelevant or manageable in (say) a single family home become not merely inconveniences but legal disqualifications in a public building:

Mold had been growing in spaces in some rooms, including the grand jury room, and there were concerns it might become unsafe for use by those with respiratory problems.


How one enters Division 1: an ADA nightmare

Governments are also both collectible and sitting ducks for tort litigation lawsuits, so once one says ‘mold’, government says ‘eradicate.’


Might as well write on the walls ‘sue me now’

The second significant issue relative to continued use of the building is accessibility.  There are several level changes on each floor that hinder accessibility, and none of the main entries are accessible.  A new accessible entry must be created, with its likely location near or part of division 2 because of its accessibility and visibility from the parking area.  [Page 3]


The building’s accessible entrance, from a distance

Primary visitor and employee entry into the building was originally planned to be through the Courtyard.  The two main problems with this arrangement are:

1.     All courtyard entries are not accessible to the disabled.

2.     They are not visible from parking lots. 

[Page 11]


Isn’t this inviting?  The ADA entrance, close up

While I’m not an architect, even a cursory examination of the building’s layout, and its poured-in-place concrete configurations, suggests it would be difficult if not impossible to create ADA compliance without entirely gutting the visual effects that Mr. Rudolph worked so hard to create.

Division 1 has some important architectural spaces, but requires complete internal replanning to be effectively used as government office space.  [Page 3]


Division 1, handicapped lift … and that’s just to address four steps

Division 3 requires the complete accessibility and mechanical upgrade noted above, but otherwise can be repaired for reuse.  

The new accessible entry requirements, the need to relocate building systems, and the poor interior arrangement and lack of any important architectural spaces within all point to the likely partial or complete removal of Division 2 in order to create new access, identity, and systems management.   [Page 3]

That would be anathema to the preservationists.

Haters in Orange County government have been contemplating its demise for years, allowing it to fall into disrepair and shuttering the building, citing water damage after Hurricane Irene in 2011.

Not haters, observers. 

Some Goshen officials say Rudolph’s complex, which features protruding cubes and a corrugated concrete facade resembling corduroy, isn’t worth preserving, that it should be sold and a new government center constructed elsewhere.

‘Preserving’ implies stasis is acceptable; but a building must be used; unlike pure art, it’s an object of purpose first, ornamentation second.

Mr. Kaufman called the government center possibly the most important building architecturally in all of Orange County.

Doubtless the people of Orange County are expected to rise up in preservation of their architectural importance.  Okay, maybe not:


“I don’t consider it an historic building,” said Leigh J. Benton, an Orange County legislator. “I just consider it to be a cluster of concrete slabs.”

“I’d love to have a new building,” Mr. Benton added. “We should start completely over.”

If the building cannot be used for its intended purpose, could it be used for something else? 

[Continued Monday in Part 5.]


Form forces function: Part 3, Who decides when to reconfigure or upgrade?

February 19, 2015 | Architecture, Brutalism, Goshen, Government, Maintenance, Orange County (NY), Paul Rudolph, Rehab, Renovation, US News, Utilities | No comments 286 views

[Continued from yesterday’s Part 2 and the preceding Part 1.]

By: David A. Smith

In yesterday’s post, we opened our study of the possibility that, reversing the standard Louis Sullivan motto, that instead of following function, form forces function – the physical form limits what a property can be used for.


That’s a lot of stain to get rid of

Sources used in this post

Defending Brutalism (2013 article by David Hay; navy blue font)

New York Times (April 7, 2012; brown font)

Physical condition assessment, OCGC (May, 2013; brick red font)

New York Times (July 6, 2014; pastel blue font)

Architectural Record (December 16, 2014; lavender font)

The New York Times (January 27, 2015);

Wikipedia entry (accessed February 9, 2015; emerald green font)

On this standard, Brutalist buildings are probably the least occupant-friendly ever designed in human history – not even medieval castles were as unaccommodating to their inhabitants.

2B. In general, Brutalist buildings poorly accommodate ‘normal working’ activities

Brutalist architects commissioned to design buildings for practical use make me nervous, because I’ve been in many of them and none of them work.


The Graduate School of Design’s main building, Gund Hall (built 1972), from the street

I’m familiar with two Brutalist-style buildings: Harvard’s Graduate School of Design (”the concrete bleachers”) and Boston’s City Hall (“the box the building came in”) – I’ve many times been inside both for practical purposes (meetings, classes).


Boston City Hall, still ugly after all these years

As work spaces, both are terrible.  The classrooms at GSD are postage-stamp size and hard to reach (long bland white corridors), and the studio spaces, which were intended as the building’s crowning glory, are actually very poor work areas:

  • With all the flat glass surfaces, they are quite noisy, and cannot be subdivided to hold proper studio activities, so the work space is constantly distracting. 
  • Thermally they are a disaster: freezing in winter, baking in summer. 


You’d really love working here … if you were a different kind of person

  • Working by daylight is challenging, especially now with work done on computer and laptop screens, as the light and glare block screen viewing.
  • There’s a chronic shortage of power outlets.

But, protest Brutalism’s defenders, the building was constructed before the energy crisis, before the personal computer with its screens and its electricity demands – so the architect couldn’t possibly have anticipated these developments.  That leads us to the next challenge.

2C. Public buildings have to be adaptable and upgradable … and concrete isn’t

Half a year ago I explored the limitations of concrete in a lengthy history of Boston’s Harbor Towers, the building where I first learned about leaky concrete.


Corrosion of metal by concrete, and of concrete by metal

Whatever the Government Center was used for, its future use (if any) may be different:

The government offices that were in the center have dispersed around the county.

Few are the buildings that age without needing redesign or reconfiguration, because everything around the buildings – people’s work patterns, utilities, technology, and regulatory requirements.  And for adaptation or upgrading, concrete is about the worst building material known to man.

Unlike wood, concrete is extremely tricky to drill into or to cut; in either case it cracks, and if it cracks concrete loses structural integrity and becomes a water highway. 


Vinyl sealants ruptured and pulled away from flashing

Concrete also bonds poorly to many other building materials.  (a) Metals and concrete in contact rust or corrode each other, so metals normally should be sheathed.  (b) Metals expand and contract with temperature swings; concrete doesn’t.  One puts stress on the other, and eventually the concrete either cracks or leaks. 


A wall base: rising metal pulling away from the concrete, membranes have delaminated

[I have posted these photos, taken from the capital needs assessment, as a kind of ‘building pornography’ – they show the sordid underside of structures that look good mainly from an exterior distance. – Ed.]

Concrete is immensely difficult to remove.  Interior walls made of concrete are a nightmare to demolish.


Corner join, crumbling from water intrusion, freezing, and expansion

Finally, concrete inhibits wireless communications. That this might be an issue was inconceivable in 1970; today it’s an essential for public buildings.

All these limitations of concrete (except the wi-fi problem) were known at the time Mr. Rudolph was designing the building.  Nevertheless, he chose this as the core structural building material because concrete was an article of faith among Brutalists, and in so choosing, he committed the county to a highly particular form of building space.

2D. The building is energy inefficient and cannot be made efficient

Like many buildings designed and constructed before the 1974 Arab Oil Embargo kicked off four decades of energy consciousness, the Orange County Government Center is a heat sieve and a cold sponge:

It has also become expensive to heat.

Concrete has a terrible R-factor, roughly one-quarter as much as wood: 1.9 to 2.5 for an eight-inch wall, versus one inch of solid wood, whose R value of 1.00, or typical insulation whose R-values are 2.2 up to 7.2 per inch.  So look back at the Government Center and think to yourself, assume those walls were one-inch wood, how’d I enjoy working there in winter?

Nor can this be corrected and remain true to Mr. Rudolph’s conception, because to insulate would require covering all those walls, thus hiding the visible rough concrete that was the point and purpose of the architectural style in the beginning. 


Office space in Division 2: no sign of structural materials here

The windows are not thermally efficient, allow air and water penetration, and should be replaced.

[Page 8]


Storefront windows, ground level

Window upgrades can normally be managed within the context of a Brutalist building, because even though the apertures will be totally inflexible, windows can be custom-made to fit.  Even so, window replacements are surprisingly expensive, and the costs multiply up quickly.

2E. Buildings that are used have to be maintained and sealed from water

As I’ve previously posted (ironically, in a post discussing a property in Poughkeepsie, just forty miles from Goshen and dealing with the same high-moisture/ high-freezing-risk climate), water is a property’s worst enemy … and concrete is the absolutely worst building material to use in a high-humidity or high-temperature-range environment (snow and rain; heat expansion and contraction). 


Efflorescence, the fingerprint of leaks … and it’s impossible to know where they came from

The building has always leaked:

July 22, 1972 County center springs a leak; offices, courtroom chamber soaked

(Newspaper story photocopy included on page 152 of capital needs assessment)

September 7, 1974: Orange center contractor eyes solution to leaks

The general contractor for the Orange County Government Center said Friday he has been investigating the cause and possible cures for the building’s leaky roof and said repairs could start soon.  David Neuman of Corbeau-Neuman of Great Neck said, however, that the fault lies with the building’s design and not his work.  “We just followed the plans,” Neuman said.  “if we encounter something that was out fault we will fix it at no charge, but we will submit a bill for anything that was not our fault.”  Neuman said he hasn’t pinpointed the cause of the leaks despite a great deal of investigation.

(Newspaper story photocopy included on page 151 of capital needs assessment)

Those few paragraphs precis the Greek-tragedy of precast concrete construction; through0out the late 1970s and early 1980s the company I was then with, Boston Financial, dealt with dozens of precast concrete affordable housing properties, many of them in mid-statue and upstate New York, that faced similar persistent and pervasive leaks.  After many attempts at lower cost failed, the typical solution ran (if memory serves) to 20-30% of the building’s original development cost, money that had to be sourced from somewhere with no marginal payback whatsoever, and I came away vowing never, never to endorse the use of precast concrete in any high-traffic large property, as it was impossible to maintain.

The building has had problems over its life. It leaked severely enough after a heavy storm in 1970 that the Finance Department had to stretch a tarpaulin across the ceiling.[1]

The plastic-tarpaulin desperation catchment is no ancient phenomenon, it was present in 2013.


From the capital needs study: water through a crack, yielding efflorescence and necessitating a plastic catchment.

That may look like a minor problem, but aside from the psychological torture of dripping water, an office setting depends on paper and electronics, and neither does well when constantly dripped upon.


Do you like concrete yet?

Today many of its 87 roofs leak[2].

Looking at the building’s roofs, a property-management person inwardly screams You’ve done everything wrong. 


Rule 1: Do not use flat roofs in snowy location.  When it comes to leaks, rain is bad enough, but snow is worse; it piles up, adding weight, and creating sags in the roof rectangles.  Then too, snow melts during the day, so water seeps down into all the little cracks and joins – which at night it refreezes, expanding 4% and acting as a wedge to pry apart joins that will not rebound the next morning when the water again melts.  Add to that the different expansion-contraction dynamics of metal versus concrete, and a roof that melts and freezes in cycles is being ravaged worse than Isengard by the Ents.


Tolkien was a tree-hugger

The findings indicate that the vast majority of the Government Center leaks occur at the intersection between roof planes and walls.  These conditions, called “cold joints,” were done as separate concrete pours and as such have a natural propensity for cracking. 

Worse still – traffic, even – is that when water gets under a building’s roof, it stay there indefinitely, rotting or mildewing everything it can reach.  The photo below shows a core sample cut into the roof, showing standing water. 


The building is in effect encased by sponges pressed between concrete slabs.

Nor, evidently, did the builders waterproof the grade against seepage rising from the ground below:

The lack of waterstops at the joints between floors and exterior walls where the joint can experience the watertable, should it be that high, will allow water to enter through the cold joints, with the amount entering correlating to the hydrostatic head applied to the joint. It is not expected that water will always enter at these joints, only during periods of hydrostatic pressure that are sufficient to force water between the cold joint.  (Page 30)

Rule 2: Do not divide a roof into partitions because that increases the number of joins per square meter of roof space.


Copper flashing joining two roof sections: new higher flashing at left, original lower flashing at right

Every join in a roof – wall to wall, roof to wall, section to section – is an invitation to gaps, and gaps lead inexorably to water infusion.

The existing membrane roof is well beyond its useful life, and therefore allows substantial water buildup along these cracks, which leads to water infiltration. 

For a building, water is like a Cold-War Soviet spy: let it enter anywhere, and it will surreptitiously migrate everywhere, including the most sensitive and damaging places.

Any water that infiltrates into the wall cavity can also weep down to these cracks and cause additional infiltration.  The investigation determined little evidence of water infiltration through walls, but does indicate that the existing masonry requires substantial repointing (as would be expected for a 43-year-old building) with many flashing requirements.  [Page 3, emphasis added]

Rule 3: Make sure the roof-to-wall seals are robust enough to remain watertight over the course of seasonal temperature/ precipitation cycles.


Roof-to-wall join, caulked and recaulked, because after each caulking, the metal/ concrete expand and contract and the gap reopens

The original roof assembly design was workable but significantly lacking in the detailing of the transitions of parapets and rising walls due to the limited roof membrane and flashing options available at the time. 

In fact, the original roof lasted only ten years, a short interval compared with the twenty years normally considered standard (see Paragraphs 33-36).

The roof assembly installed in the 1980s utilized a single-ply roofing membrane and again, the detailing of the system was poor and did not provide for the needed lapping and protection at wall/ roof intersections and flashing to prevent water infiltration.  [Page 8]


Concrfete-to-conret7e joins: staining, efflorescing, crumbling

Padfield’s Law of Construction Complexity strikes again: maintenance did not match the standard that would have been required for such a high-maintenance building with a climate-intolerant envelope (concrete).

[Continued tomorrow in Part 4.]


Form forces function: Part 2, Who decides how a building is used?

February 18, 2015 | Architecture, Brutalism, Goshen, Government, Maintenance, Orange County (NY), Paul Rudolph, Rehab, Renovation, US News, Utilities | No comments 257 views

[Continued from yesterday’s Part 1.]

By: David A. Smith

Yesterday’s Part 1, the first in a lengthy sequence that will sit in judgment on the Orange County Government Center in Goshen, New York, asked a core question: Who ‘owns’ the art inherent in a creative architectural design?  Is it the designer/ architect?


Who owns my portrait?

Sources used in this post

Defending Brutalism (2013 article by David Hay; navy blue font)

New York Times (April 7, 2012; brown font)

Physical condition assessment, OCGC (May, 2013; brick red font)

New York Times (July 6, 2014; pastel blue font)

Architectural Record (December 16, 2014; lavender font)

The New York Times (January 27, 2015);

Wikipedia entry (accessed February 9, 2015; emerald green font)

Unlike other forms of art, a building has another purpose – being decorative isn’t Job 1.


The county courthouse in the 1970s: its main entrance, where the cars are parked, is on one side.

announces itself as a civic hub.  It’s made of corrugated concrete and glass, organized into three pavilions around a courtyard, like an old wagon train around a village green.

Actually, Google street views show nothing of the kind; from street level, the courthouse resembles nothing so much as a vocational high school, something you’d drive past without a second thought.  It looks interesting only from selected exterior angles –


View from a parking lot: no way in, but just a nice facade

– mind you, not the ones you’d use to enter the building, to get the above and above effects you need to be around the parking lot’s back side.


View from close up, notice the stains

No, to appreciate the building as its designer intended, you need to view it from above:


It looks much better from here

In the fashion of Chariots of the Gods, which book was wildly popular among a certain set around the time that Paul Rudolph was designing the Orange County Government Center.


Nazca Lines, Peru, a monkey image


Eat enough magic mushrooms and you can see alien spacecraft landing patterns

The building, completed in 1970,  has stood for roughly 45 years, and for 35 of those years it housed most of Orange County’s government, but now it’s deliberately unoccupied (reasons why below) and the county wants to do an extensive renovation:

A county proposal would tear down huge chunks of it, flatten the roof, destroy windows, swap out parts of the textured concrete facade and build what looks like an especially soul-crushing glass box.

I hadn’t realized that glass boxes come in gradations of soul-crushing power.  I always thought that bringing in light was a good thing.

Goshen would end up with a Frankenstein’s monster, eviscerating a work that the World Monuments Fund

Unlike UNESCO’s World Heritage Center, the World Monument Fund isn’t a governmental or inter-governmental body; it’s a private non-profit, headquartered in New York City, that raises donations to preserve, or highlight the value of preserving buildings and structures. 

alarmed by precisely this turn of events –

[Sorry, I can’t resist; would the World Heritage Fund have been unalarmed by a turn of events that wasn’t precisely this? – Ed.]

– included on its global watch list alongside landmarks like Machu Picchu and the Great Wall of China.

Machu Picchu (Peru)

Machu Picchu (built 1450)


Great Wall of China (built ~200 BC)


Orange County Government Center (completed 1970)

Although the center no longer seems to suit Orange County administrators, it can be repurposed.

Can it?  That is a question we will explore at length.

Gene Kaufman, the owner and principal of Gwathmey Siegel Kaufman Architects in New York City, has offered to pay the county $5 million for the building and restore it as an artists’ live-work space, with public exhibitions.

There’s plenty of fine print in the offer:

Mr. Kaufman is not proposing a cash purchase, but suggests the county can afford to renovate the existing building and build a new one with the money it will save from, among other things, his discounted consulting fees and the elimination of its demolition costs.

A novel approach: Hire me to design the replacement building and I’ll lower my fee enough so you can afford to give me the current building.

There are some considerable hurdles Mr. Kaufman’s proposal might have to surmount, but for the time being we’ll credit him with a genuine offer, made in good faith, that he believes he can pull off, as he believes he can pull off this trick as well:

Mr. Kaufman has also offered to design a brand new government center next door for $65 million — millions less than the $74 million county officials allotted some time ago for the plan to tear down part of the building and add the glass box.

However this proposal, like the other proposals, begs a previous question: Why isn’t the county using the building now?

Later renovations ruined the inside, making it cramped and dark.

But form follows function … doesn’t it?


I don’t think so …

That brings us to the first rule of good architecture:

2. Function forces form

When Louis Sullivan framed his famous epigram, he meant it as a command to architects: build the form to accommodate and enable the human function.  Somehow, along the way that command was diluted as architects saw themselves as artists first, engineers second (if at all).

Rudolph was a master of sculpturing light and space, following in the footsteps of Frank Lloyd Wright –

Though Lloyd Wright, as I’ve posted before, was a monomaniac, he also dedicated himself to producing homes that worked for their occupants. 


Frank Lloyd wright Usonian house, New Jersey

– whose emotionalism he married to the cool Modernism of Europeans like Walter Gropius and Le Corbusier.

Unfortunately for the world, Le Corbusier was a highly influential troglodyte whose designs had done immense damages to cities, by their slavish adoption into the big bad blocks of isolated high-rises that ring many a European urban periphery and despoiled quite a American downtowns (until they were torn down in the last decade).

His style, unfortunately, came to be branded Brutalism, and turned off many.

Le Corbusier himself coined the phrase’s antecedent.

But the government center was conceived with lofty social aspirations, making tangible Rudolph’s concept of energetic governance as a democratic ideal.  It was a beautiful notion;

Evidently those lofty social aspirations were not met:

Its architecture has been subject to some criticism. At the time of its construction it was called a “monstrosity”.[1] “If I took a poll in town, it would be demolished tomorrow,” Former County Executive Edward Diana said in 2010.[2] That year he proposed a replacement building, but the county legislature balked at the $114 million cost during difficult economic times.[1]

Mr. Kimmelman tacitly acknowledges this:

While the architecture may never win any popularity contest, it was beautiful, too, with its poetry of asymmetric, interweaving volumes.

All right, let’s accept that the building has interweaving volumes; a building’s structural form is permanent, and one either has to demolish the whole building or large portions of its structure, or work within it – and for that, one should design a building that accommodates what it will be used for.  Does this one?

2A. The Orange County Government Center is a bad space for its originally intended use

When designing the Orange County Government Center, Mr. Rudolph may have envisioned courts: stately halls of justice, bringing brought into the modern era. 


Mr. Rudolph’s original floor plans

But in a county building, the courtrooms are a minority: instead the business of government is mainly administrative, and that means offices – for which the building cluster is incredibly badly suited.


Gene Kaufman’s proposal for Rudolph’s Orange County Government Center includes live/work studios (green), work studios (pink), and gallery spaces (purple).

The above is Mr. Kaufman’s proposed redesign of the upper floors to accommodate artists’ spaces; I could not locate a current floor plan, even in the May, 2013 physical condition assessment, and we should presume that the new configuration is more functional, not less functional, than the current one.  What immediately strikes one is how disjointed the spaces are; all nooks and crannies, many of them long or contorted interior spaces.  It would be a building to get lost in, not to find one’s way.

[Continued tomorrow in Part 3.]


Form forces function: Part 1, Who owns the design?

February 17, 2015 | Architecture, Brutalism, Goshen, Government, Maintenance, Orange County (NY), Paul Rudolph, Rehab, Renovation, US News, Utilities | No comments 238 views

By: David A. Smith

Form follows function.

– Louis Sullivan, 1896, The Tall Building Artistically Considered


Louis Sullivan, proponent of high-rises

The Philistines are about to destroy a paragon, at least as Michael Kimmelman of the New York Times sees it, and he is here to inform the Times’ readers how to feel and how to think about the prospect.


Are you struck dumb by its beauty?

Sources used in this post

Defending Brutalism (2013 article by David Hay; navy blue font)

New York Times (April 7, 2012; brown font)

Physical condition assessment, OCGC (May, 2013; brick red font)

New York Times (July 6, 2014; pastel blue font)

Architectural Record (December 16, 2014; lavender font)

The New York Times (January 27, 2015);

Wikipedia entry (accessed February 9, 2015; emerald green font)

Academically, architecture is a half-breed discipline, neither as purely artistic as the creative arts, nor as fact-based as the sciences – and yet it must be both, because architecture is either art you live and work in, or engineering that you react to emotionally.

Like many other architectural critics, Mr. Kimmelman is an advocate for esthetics and makes that plain in his Times columns, which liberates him to some degree from the journalist’s protocols of quoting the other side – but there is another side, a quite valid view, one of greater weight than esthetics to the future of architecture and the urban built environment. 

Further, there is underneath it all an unstated argument over the relationship between owner and architect – are they patron to genius, or client to laborer?


The sculptor as obituarist: Michelangelo’s tomb of his patron, Julius II

As Mr. Kimmelman’s fervent belief in his own positions blinds him to this side and its arguments, on behalf of the silenced majority, allow me to be their irresponsible spokesman.

Before diving into the complications, allow a moment to observe and appreciate the building.

Orange County Government Center

Its vital statistics

As this post will discuss the Orange County Government Center in detail, we can begin with a brief exposition of what it is,


Just the facts, ma’am

·         Commissioned in 1965, begun 1967, completed 1970.  Goshen, NY.

·         Principal architect Paul Rudolph, then and now famous as a Brutalist architect

·         Original cost $.6 million.  (Yes, weep.)

·         Used as the main building for county government until 2011, when mothballed for multiple reasons. 

·         Used for courts, public services, and country administrative offices.

·         159,200 square feet.

·         Oriented around a central (open) square courtyard reached by walking.

·         Divided I to three modules (called Division 1, Division 2, and Division 3).

·         Precast concrete with exterior Concrete Masonry Units (CMUs).

While I’ve not visited the property in person, it has been extensively photographed and clearly presents a striking appearance from some angles and perspectives. 


Orange County Government Center, 2014

In its configuration it reminds me of, and I daresay was inspired by, Native American pueblos (which I have visited) of New Mexico (especially Santa Fe and Taos).


Taos pueblo, 2007

Like the Government Center, pueblos are organized around open public spaces and consist of a series of one-room boxes, made of adobe and stacked atop each other higgledy-piggledy, and which are themselves the subject of a great many fine-art photographs.


Georgia O’Keeffe, Taos Pueblo, 1929

Like Gore Vidal, it is immensely photogenic … from the right angle:

Gore Vidal

Always photographed from the same side

Some of its interior spaces – atria, courtrooms – are inspiring:


A gorgeous effect of light

Though such light effects may be unsuitable for a courtroom, with its tales of domestic battery, drug deals gone wrong, and vehicular manslaughter, one cannot deny their beauty.

Looking at the exterior vistas, and the cherry-picked interior views, one may deduce that Mr. Rudolph designed the exterior first, from a maquette, then placed the ‘ceremonial’ interior spaces next, leaving everything else to be filled with ‘mortar’ in the form of offices, hallways, bathrooms, and building systems – and it is these infantry which have failed, to the point where the county moved entirely out of the buildings in 2011.

Setting the stage

The Orange County Government Center as it is today


All the world’s an office building

To set the stage, take a moment with the photo above.  There are actually five structural units in the county government complex: three in Mr. Rudolph’s building, plus two additions.

·         Mr. Rudolph’s building comprises three ‘divisions: Division 1 (lower left, with the red identifying balloon), Division 3 (upper right), and Division 2 (joining them on the building’s northwest side.  These create three sides of a square courtyard, the fourth side of which is bounded by a covered walkway.

·         To the site’s far northeast is the Orange County Family Court, a new building that, because it works, attracts no attention.  And between that courthouse and Division 2 is an administrative extension/ connection.

1. What’s at stake and why are preservationists animated?

The fate of the government center has hung in the balance since it was closed because of storm damage in 2011. Edward A. Diana, then the county executive, argued for demolishing the building, which caused a national outcry among preservationists.


Not worried about the preservationist’s vote: Ed Diana

It’s impossible to read Mr. Kimmelman’s January 27, 2015 article as journalism, so crammed is it with emotive and normative words, but to correct each of them as they arose would be to fisk the piece beyond comprehensibility … so as textual counterpoint I’ve chosen simply to highlight value judgments in red, the easier to cue readers to their existence without disrupting the flow.


Unless county legislators act quickly, a paragon of midcentury American idealism will be lost.

And we wouldn’t want paragons of idealism to be lost, would we?


Portrait of the architecture as a young visionary

Paul Rudolph’s Orange County Government Center, in Goshen, NY –

I promised not to flag Mr. Kimmelman’s every word, but this is different, as it bespeaks question, whose building is it?  In his use of the possessive form, Mr. Kimmelman presents it as belonging to Mr. Rudolph (dead though he be), and implies that it should be seen as a creation on a par with Velazquez’s Las Meninas.


Who owns this picture, anyhow?  Las Meninas

Pause with me at this painting for a page or so [Helpfully framed with an inset box – Ed.], as it invites the question of ‘ownership of art.’

Who ‘owns’ Las Meninas?

A personal and quite possibly irrelevant digression

Aside from its extraordinary verisimilitude, even more impressive when you’ve had the great fortune to see it in person (in Madrid’s Prado museum), via its five planes of viewing, Las Meninas invites the viewer to ponder the question of artistic ownership. 

1. At its center is a young girl, Infanta Margaret Theresa, princess of Hapsburg Spain, surrounded by her entourage including maids of honor (‘Las Meninas’ of the title), a dwarf, a boy, and a dog.  They are arrayed laterally, as if posing.

2. Velazquez himself stands before an oversize easel that is probably the very canvas of this painting.   The painter looks directly outward, but at what? 


Everyone is the hero of his own life

3. A nun and a monk comprise the third plane, she speaking to him, he looking directly out.

4. Behind them and on the door’s other side are King Felipe IV and his wife, though whether the frame holds a doublet portrait, or a mirrored reflection of the king and queen who may be our unseen sitter, is deliberately ambiguous.

5. A servant, probably exiting, has paused on the lighted stairs to look back, though whether at Velazquez’s easel, the unseen sitter, or the unseen viewer is likewise unknown.

Five viewing planes: five planes with at least one person looking directly out to the viewer, as if commanding the scene.

Who then is the painting ‘for’?  Who is its emotional owner?


The dwarf Maribarbola

The legal owner has never been in doubt: Velazquez was Felipe IV’s court painter, and any actual canvas he completed was under his master’s sponsorship – and there is a direct line of ownership from this painting to the Prado, where it now hangs.  And the king and queen’s ownership is signaled further by their presence, either virtual or real, in the doublet portrait.

If we’re to judge by the brightness, the infant is the owner; our eyes go first to her, and she holds the viewer’s gaze with an equipoise scarcely credible in a five-year-old, even a princess. 

Then too Velazquez, the artist himself, is the scene’s largest figure, and the one who (within the painting world, in any event) is dominating and controlling the action; the sitters hold their pose at his command.  And even the exiting servant, backlit, is a compositional focal point.


Velazquez, self-portrait as a cavalier

Who then is spiritual owner of Las Meninas?  It can remain mysterious and ambiguous because the painting is a work of art, with no purpose other than decorative.

[Continued tomorrow in Part 2.]


The Law of Committee-Action Tardiness

February 13, 2015 | Capital control, Capital markets, Committees, Global news, Government, Regulation, Speculation, Theory | No comments 251 views

By: David A. Smith

When it comes to analyzing government actions, we make too much of politics or partisanship and far too little of organizational behavior, which unlike politics can not only explain many decisions that would otherwise be incomprehensible but also guide our creativity in designing and implementing policies and programs.

conceptual image of an alarm clock showing that you are too late

Time for the committee meeting?

The Law of Committee-Action Tardiness

When a complex critical situation calls for dramatic action, a committee will only do the right thing too late.

Aside from being observable, as will be shown in this post, using as seed material a think piece from The Economist (December 13, 2014), the Law of Committee Action Tardiness can be derived from the three premises of committee existence:

The Three Premises of Committee Existence

A committee is no braver than its greatest scaredy-cat.

A committee is no smarter than its least-knowledgeable member.

A committee believes its first job is to justify its members’ selection.


We’ve already found three things to agree on

A committee’s car would have no windshield but instead six rear-view mirrors, and nowhere is this more apparent than when dealing with the ultimate in speedy OODA loops, capital markets:

​Capital controls are back in the spotlight, this time on Europe’s northern flanks. To the east, many expect Russia, battered by oil’s plunge, to impose limits on currency conversions to halt the rouble’s fall. To the west, Iceland, at last turning the corner after a painful financial crisis, is planning to ease restrictions that have stopped cash from leaving the island since 2008.

That the pros and cons of capital controls can be calmly discussed is progress. Until a couple of years ago, they were the bastard children of economic policy. Guardians of the established order refused to acknowledge their usefulness.

Personally, I think they’re useless in the intermediate run (succumbing to the Law of Economic Pressure, as in Chinese investors looking for places to expatriate their capital), usually destructive in the short run – but I Am Not An Economist:

But used they were, particularly in emerging markets. Then, in 2012, the once-unthinkable happened: the International Monetary Fund bestowed its blessing on them “under certain circumstances”.

The IMF, let us not forget, may be run by economists, but it is controlled by politicians, appointed by their elected heads of state, and as such the IMF is for our purposes a committee.  (That’s not true of the Federal Reserve, which is normally controlled by its chairman who is independent of the President, nor the European Central Bank, who is likewise controlled by its president.  That those gentlemen may be wrong in their actions is quite possible, but they can be both decisive and timely, and it’s striking that the 2008 banking-system-rescue coup, and the 2012 Euro-defense, were both bold decisions made not by committees but by individuals.)


And ending with my grin, which will remain for some time after I’ve gone

Most committees love to fudge, because that gives them wiggle room to decide each situation ‘case by case’ (meaning possibly according to which way the political winds may be blowing).

What the appropriate circumstances are, however, remains a matter of dispute.

Only because the committee wants maximum freedom to ignore any precedents because ‘this time is different.’

Orthodox economics holds that capital controls are usually harmful to growth, because, much like barriers to trade, they breed inefficiency: those with excess cash cannot lend it to those who could use it best. But crises in Mexico and Asia in the 1990s made clear that a sudden influx of cash can propel asset prices and exchange rates beyond reasonable levels, and that its eventual exodus imperils financial stability.

Not all problems can be solved with available tools.

With the IMF’s qualified endorsement, there has been an explosion of research about how capital controls should operate.

Sources referenced by the Economist

The Liberalization and Management of Capital Flows: An Institutional View”, International Monetary Fund paper, November 2012
Capital Controls in Brazil: Effective?”, by Marcos Chamon and Marcio Garcia,  August 2014
Capital controls in the 21st century”, by Barry Eichengreen and Andrew Rose. Centre for Economic Policy Research, June 2014
Why do emerging markets liberalize capital outflow controls? Fiscal versus net capital flow concerns”, by Joshua Aizenman and Gurnain Kaur Pasricha. NBER Working Paper, March 2013
International banking and financial market developments”, BIS Quarterly Review December 2014
Are Capital Controls Prudential? An Empirical Investigation”, by Andrés Fernandez, Alessandro Rebucci and Martín Uribe. NBER Working Paper, November 2013

The emerging consensus is that well-designed capital controls should be targeted and limited, such as taxes on short-term foreign borrowing or minimum “stay” requirements for foreign direct investment (FDI).  

In that formulation one can hear the sounds of screeching breaks being futilely applied to runaway political trains: an ‘emerging consensus’ of economists to target and limit activity (x) isn’t binding on committees and (y) merely kicks down the road the cans entitled ‘target’ and ‘limits’. 


We’ve decided to decide when we know what decision we’ll like then

Strict prohibitions against all cross-border flows are still frowned upon as too blunt, except in extreme cases.

Another fudge: what is ‘extreme’?

As for timing, the ideal is that controls should be counter-cyclical.  When capital surges in, governments ought to tighten controls; when cash departs, controls can be relaxed.

Repeat it with me: Duh.


Well, duh!

This seems a neat solution, reconciling the dream of free-flowing cash to the untidy reality of global finance. But it is far from the final word.

It’s not even the first word, because it’s abstract and not implementable, as the Economist now explains.

There are three big snags with the idea of on-off capital controls.

1. Even stringent controls can be pierced.

In other words, the Law of Economic Pressure wins.


Perhaps the best example is China, one of the staunchest practitioners. In a new quarterly report, the Bank for International Settlements noted that international bank lending to China reached $1.1 trillion in June, doubling in 18 months. Much of that has been trade finance, ostensibly for foreign firms to buy Chinese goods. In reality, it is a ruse for Chinese firms to sneak the money in. The BIS also pointed out that many Chinese firms were issuing debt via foreign subsidiaries, leading to inflows that look like FDI but are really loans.

That’s a novel evasive strategy:


Tax man!  Evasive action required!

Step 1.  Create a foreign subsidiary.

Step 2.  Have the foreign subsidiary borrow money in a foreign country.

Step 3.  Use the money (via the foreign subsidiary) to buy Chinese assets (good, services, property).

Result: for money has flowed into China, seemingly by foreigners buying things, in reality by foreigners lending to Chinese.

The biggest impact of capital controls appears to be on the composition of flows. Money that in their absence would go straight into stocks instead enters in the guise of FDI. Given that FDI in emerging markets far outstrips portfolio inflows (see chart), there is ample scope to get around the rules. If gushers of cash find their way past even well-guarded, permanent walls such as China’s, then hastily built counter-cyclical barriers will be at least as porous.


You can hide a lot of billions in 1% of China’s GDP

2. The idea of on-off controls disregards the revealed preference of nations.

The debate is almost always framed as how to regulate inflows. On examining the record of what governments have actually done, it turns out that they devote far more attention to stemming outflows.

As in China, which is blocking capital outflow as much as it thinks it can.

Joshua Aizenman of University of Southern California and Gurnain Kaur Pasricha of the Bank of Canada [Canada’s Central Bank – Ed.] examine 664 changes to capital-control regimes in emerging markets in the first decade of this century. Restrictions on capital outflows were eased 274 times, more frequently than any other kind of change.

Dictators demand capital-outflow controls so that they can depreciate the value of holdings while preventing those who have holdings from escaping with their capital.  That gives those who would depart a choice: your money or your freedom, which is it to be?


Marseilles, 1940: choosing freedom, because without freedom, what is money worth?

Opening the door to outflows can meet the same basic aim as blocking inflows (net inflows should decline) but the optics are very different. In the former, regulators loosen their grip on the economy, a signal of confidence to global markets.

3. There is scant evidence that an on-off approach to capital controls is even practical.

Theories that haven’t been tested yet can’t be disproven, so they provide fertile ground for scholarly doctorate-gaining research. 

Few countries have ever attempted one.

Insofar as they have been tried, they don’t work.

In a recent paper Barry Eichengreen and Andrew Rose of the University of California, Berkeley conclude that decisions to strengthen or slacken controls have little relationship to inflation or growth—that is, they are not counter-cyclical. This finding is in line with other research showing that even after the global financial crisis, there was no consistency in the way different countries used capital controls. Some, such as China and Indonesia, loosened restrictions as their economies boomed, the opposite of a counter-cyclical approach.

And there is demonstrated proof of the Law of Committee Action Tardiness.


Oh my paws and whiskers, the committee’s crisis-discussion meeting is overdue

By the time a committee has dragged itself into (a) acknowledging that something is a crisis, (b) waiting out the interval of hoping the problem will go away, (c) exhausting all possible non-dramatic or committal strategies, (d) persuading the least brave and least intelligent members to support the action, and (e) implementing the desired action – well, by then it’s past the time for effective action. 

Brazil’s experience lends support to the sceptics. From late 2009, when inflows into emerging markets surged, Brazil gradually ratcheted up capital controls. A new paper by Marcos Chamon of the IMF and Marcio Garcia of PUC-Rio concludes that a first series of measures from 2009 until mid-2011—taxes on debt and equity inflows—did not slow the real’s appreciation, which had been the government’s main objective. A big increase in FDI suggests that investors simply found other channels.

Markets move faster than government.  Capital moves faster than markets.

Measures taken in the second half of 2011 to target offshore equity derivatives finally appeared to have an impact, weakening the real by as much as 10% relative to what might have been expected. But other factors were also at play: the central bank started cutting interest rates in late 2011. More important, all the various restrictions also inflicted damage on the Brazilian economy, raising funding costs and deterring investment. Brazil’s dismal growth performance over the past three years is hardly a ringing endorsement for the on-off approach.

Capital controls are the response of a committee made up of government people who fear the market; when it’s the time to act, a committee is fearful; and when it’s time for courage, a committee decides to wait, and hope something good happens.


Is the crisis over yet?

Counter-cyclical capital controls are an alluring idea. So far, though, that is all they are.


Is that a good enough answer for you?

“In theory there is no difference between theory and practice; in practice there is.”

– attributed to almost everyone under the sun, from Yogi Berra on down