In Photos: What Makes A Building Worth Saving?

A Brutalist icon is on the verge of disappearing. Last month, local lawmakers declined to veto a proposal that would allow the gutting of architect Paul Rudolph’s 1967 Orange County Government Center, a boxy corrugated concrete and glass complex in Goshen, New York, to make way for an expanded county seat. New York City-based architectural photographer Matthew Carbone highlights the tragedy in a series of new photos of the civic complex. The images prompt the question: What makes a building worth saving?

“Obviously, Brutalist buildings are wonderful photographic subjects,” Carbone tells Co.Design. “They have strong expressive forms, wonderful in black and white.” Rudolph’s complex in Goshen is no exception. Under Carbone’s lens, the structure’s dramatic concrete forms are juxtaposed against a stark, snowy background to resemble geometric paintings. They hint at order and clarity–entirely befitting a complex that was, as architecture critic Michael Kimmelman writes, designed to convey governmental “openness, transparency, accountability” (something today’s legislators could learn a thing or two about).

But Brutalist buildings aren’t always well-loved by members of the public, who can find the monolithic concrete forms off-putting and austere. “Their importance to the design community is rarely questioned, but these buildings often have a contentious relationship with the public,” as Carbone puts it. People think Rudolph’s complex is ugly or depressing, and it regularly leaks. (On the flip side, advocates for saving the building have filed a lawsuit seeking to halt the demolition.)

History is rarely neat. Historical artifacts, whether a medieval chalice in a museum or a Brutalist building, require maintenance and, often, the wisdom of experts to explain why they matter. Carbone’s series, with its neat compositions and foreboding winter light, reveals the Orange County Government Center for what it is–an important piece of history that could be swept away in an instant.SF