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)
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. The following week, Diana pressed county legislators to make a decision soon on whether to renovate the building or restore it.
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 , 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.
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.”
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
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.
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.]