Orange County Government Center

Added by Michelle Ann Taylor, last update: November 12, 2015, 2:16 am

Orange County Government Center
255-275 Main Street
Goshen, NY 10294
United States
41° 24' 20.6676" N, 74° 19' 4.026" W
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Identity of Building / Site
Primary classification: Administration (ADM)
Secondary classification:
Federal, State, or Local Designation(s) and Date(s):

None as of February 2011.
It has been nominated for National Trust for Historic Preservation's "America's 11 Most Endangered Historic Places" for 2011.

History of Building/Site
Original Brief:

The Orange County Government Center was originally designed as three interconnecting buildings each with its own purpose. The buildings surround an open courtyard that allows light into the interior spaces and also acts as the main entrance to all three buildings. The largest building, located at the north-east portion of the complex,was designed as the adult and supreme court for the County. West of this building, running parallel to Main Street was the juvenile court. The legislative branch of the County Government was housed in the southern most building.

Dates: Commission / Completion:Commissioned: 1963(c) Completed: 1971(e)
Architectural and other Designer(s): Architect: Paul Rudolph Project Architects: William Bedford and James Brown Structural Engineers: Lev Zetlin Associates, Inc. Foundation or Soils Engineers: Orange County Highway Department Mechanical and Electrical Engineers: Caretsky and Associates Acoustical Consultants: Cambridge Acoustical Consultants General Contractor: Corbeau-Newman Construction Corporation
Others associated with Building/Site: Project commissioned by the Orange County Board of (New York)
Significant Alteration(s) with Date(s): In 1997 (c) the main judicial building which housed the adult courts and local supreme court was declared "unfit" for occupation and replaced by an addition to the North of the original structure. The original judicial building was not demolished.
Current Use: The buildings house all three branches of the County Government, the Executive Branch, Legislative Branch, and Judicial Branch. The local Department of Motor Vehicles also occupies the space.
Current Condition: Orange County government officials have cited multiple leaks and mold throughout the structure. In the summer of 2010, County Executive Edward Diana proposed complete demolition of the building to be replaced by a $114 million government center on the same site. Mr. Diana's proposal was not supported by the County for lack of funding but as of January 2011 Orange County has issued a Request for Proposals (RFP). The County is currently requesting proposals for the most cost-effective way to provide facilities for the County government whether through renovation OR demolition of the existing structure. One of the primary concerns stated by the Mr. Diana is the need for more offices and space for the various government departments which are currently located throughout the County. Mr. Diana and others argue that the current structure is too small and expensive to fit the County's current needs. In September 2011, the government center was closed due to damage sustained by Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee. The Orange County Legislature votes on building a new government center on May 3, 2012.
General Description:

The Orange County Government Center is often considered "a concrete Brutalist classic" (Foster) comprised of three interconnecting concrete buildings with similar massing and forms. Each building is three stories tall consisting of a series of concrete boxes, or blocks, stacked upon one another and cantilevered out by concrete beams, each extruding mass is further defined by its fenestration. The individual boxes vary in size but are uniform in their style and use of floor to ceiling single panes of glass. Portions of the structure appear organic: some blocks are smallest on the first floor and grow with each succeeding story so that it appears that the building is growing like a tree from the ground. Other facades have a heavier orientation caused by blocks and stories that appear to merge and lose form.

The volumes or the building result from Rudolph's interpretation of Mies Van Der Rohe’s concept of "implied space” (Schmertz, 83). Highly articulated plans published at the time of construction reveal Rudolph's clear, almost mathematical, approach to space, light and structure. Both exterior and interior forms and materials are designed to play with natural light and shadows; high ceilings and large windows take advantage of the large open space surrounding the structure. Interior spaces are further complimented by the open and deliberate courtyard in the center of the structure.

The Government Center has a total square footage of 250,000sq.ft (not including exterior spaces), more than 80 roofs, and 300 inoperable windows.

Construction Period:

Completed 1973 (c)

Original Physical Context:

The town of Goshen is comprised mostly of low-rise structures from the 18th and 19th Centuries. The Orange County Government Center is located along Main Street on a 24 acre parcel. The building is surrounded by an ample parking lot which is further enclosed by an expansive and rolling lawn. The large open space surrounding the building contribute to Rudolph's intended use of light on and in the building.

Technical Evaluation:

The Government Center has a concrete frame and exterior complimented by large windows of single pane glass. Rudolph utilized a rough textured concrete technique similar to that which he first used on Yale University's Art & Architecture building.

The project's structural engineer, Lev Zetlin, created a structure comprised of parallel beams five feet wide and two feet deep that are placed 18 feet apart and span 40 to 50 feet.

The building was carefully designed to hide the mechanical functions of the building; the air condition ducts and lighting connections were incorporated into the structure of the building and removed from public view.


In the 1960's the Orange County Government Center represented not just a county but a new approach to governing that county. The Orange County Government was historically run by individual town supervisors but in the 1960's the County aimed to create a more cohesive and unified type of Government and implemented the position of County Executive. The Orange County Government Center was commissioned as a physical representation of the County's new approach to government and community.

Paul Rudolph was considered an innovative and idealist architect in the 1960's and the Orange County Board of Supervisors enlisted his services to represent the forward-thinking approach that they embraced. Rudolph was commissioned to create a new, and avant-garde image for the town of Goshen.

Cultural & Aesthetic:
Rudolph credited Ludwig Mies van der Rohe as his inspiration and creative source for the Orange County Government Center, although reviewers, critics and historians often credit Le Corbusier as a point of reference in the development of the Brutalist style. The Government Center is a Brutalist building that defied the glass box aesthetics of corporate modernism current at the time. The building is notable not only for its unique massing and use of textured concrete but also for its deliberate employment of natural light. Light plays on the rough texture of the building, the strong extruding volumes of the block forms, the open courtyards and the interior space through the use of large single pane windows.

From its point of completion in 1971, Rudolph's Orange County Government Center has elicited strong opinions from architects, historians, journalists and County residents. Anecdotal evidence from local newspapers repeatedly admonish the building, often referring to it as "the ugliest building in town," (Bernstein). The current County Executive, Mr. Diana, shares these sentiments and has repeatedly announced since his election in 2002 that if he conducted a county survey "the building would be demolished tomorrow," (Bernstein). Other local residents disagree and are actively fighting for the building's preservation, such as the local chapter of the League of Women Voters. These efforts are also supplemented by more prominent groups such as the Preservation League of New York State, the National Trust for Historic Preservation, and the Paul Rudolph Foundation.

In academic circles the building is often cited as an exemplary structure of Brutalist style. Richard Hull, a local historian of Warwick and a professor of history and civilization at New York University, considers the building unappreciated and a victim of neglect (Johnson). And Columbia University's Director of of the Historic Preservation Program, Andrew Dolkart, considers the building's use of space and light to be "beautiful" and admired Rudolph's design because he "broke away from the doctrinaire modernism of the glass towers," (McKenna).

Although there were complaints from the beginning regarding leaky roofs, from a utilitarian perspective the Orange County Government Center sucessfully served the needs of its constituents for many years. In the late 1990's however the Supreme Court building was considered unfit and was closed permanently. And in more recent years the now well-established County government is seeking a larger space to accommodate a more consolidated administration.

General Assessment:
In the 1960's, when the Orange County Government Center was first commissioned, Rudolph was considered one of America's most prominent working architects. The Orange County Government Center is one of Rudolph's few civic buildings and a great example of his sculptural, multi-leveled Brutalist buildings of the 1960's that played with volume, texture and the play of light. A June 1966 article in Architectural Record reviewed six of Rudolph's projects and stated "Paul Rudolph considers this building [the Orange County Government Center] his most important current project in terms of the development of ideas," (Architectural Record.) The Government Center also provided an administrative, judicial and legislative center both geographically and physically for the reorganized Orange County.
Text references:
Bernstein, Fred A., "The End of 1960's Architecture," The New York Times, October 31, 2004.
Chergotis, Pamela, "Center Renovation is Still an Option," The Chronicle, January 13, 2011.
Foster, Margaret,"NY County Debates Future of Paul Rudolph's Government Center," Preservation Magazine, National Trust for Historic Preservation, Jan 21, 2011.
Johnson, Edie, "Will It Be Demolition or Makeover for County Government Center?" The Photo News, New York, January 6, 2011.
Jordan, John, "Orange County Executive Presses Forward on New Government Center," Construction News Online, October 1, 2010.
McKenna, Chris, "Architects Legacy in Goshen's Orange County Government Center Has Its Defenders," Herald-Record, October 10, 2010.
"Paul Rudolph's Elaborated Spaces: Six New Projects," Architectural Record,USA, Vol. 139, June 1966, p135-150.
Schmertz, Mildred F., "A County Government Center by Paul Rudolph," Architectural Record, Vol. 150, August 1973, p83-92.
Sveivan, Megan, "AD Classics:Orange County Government Center/Paul Rudolph," ArchDaily, November 8, 2010.

Audio and Video Web References

Depicted item: Interview of residents outside the building in 2010 discussing if they like the building or not. , source: HVMediaGroup via Youtube
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