Monday, August 11, 2014

Beautiful Brutalism In A Bucolic Bourg

In the land of Goshen - the one located in New York state, not the Biblical one - stands a building that smacks you in the face with its modernity.

The Village of Goshen, located within the Town of Goshen, was settled in the early 1700s and the area is known for its historic homes, rolling green pastures, quiet village streets and proximity to New York City.  It's a very desirable place to live.  And this building has been a topic of conversation in it for over 45 years.  So much so, even the New York Times has covered its existence and architectural importance, its supporters, and the campaign for its demise, in articles published in 2004, 2007, 2012 and again in 2014.

In 1967, the year it was completed, it was called a "monstrosity".  Its rugged brick and concrete exterior, stacked like today's trendy "green" shipping container homes, was the antithesis of the Village of Goshen aesthetic.  
I was born the year it was built, so I can't tell you what people thought about it then - even though we know based on documentation - but since I've lived in the town it's in, and my family still resides there, I can tell you what they think about it now...they're still not happy.  My mother called it the "eewy-gooey" building.  Not exactly an architectural term, but descriptive nonetheless.

The building sits prominently (as if it could sit any other way) on the corner of Scotchtown Road and Main Street, two-tenths of a mile from the historic Harness Racing Museum and the Goshen Historic Track (the oldest active harness racing track in the United States), and across the street from Maplewood, the current
Village of Goshen Town Hall, which was built in 1816.

Stark contrast is an understatement.
But I like it.  I've always liked it.  Sure, it doesn't fit in with the small-town-farm-community history of the village.  Nor does it please the people who moved from "the city" to "the country" to get away from buildings that look like this.  But it has a certain appeal.  And it certainly evokes emotion.

The building served as the Government Center for Orange County.  Inside were offices for our county officials, the county court, court records, deed and mortgage records (I'd been there many times pulling giant books to look up property information for various reasons), and the DMV office.

In the photo above you'll see an addition on the north side of the building.  I had already moved out of New York when they added that part, which housed the new county courts.  I think it ruins the look of the original structure.  I wish they'd just left it alone.
Visiting the building has always caused me a teeny bit of trepidation.  It was a very confusing structure.  But it was also a bit exciting, like an adventure. It didn't matter which way I entered, I was always in the wrong part of the building for what I needed.  Hence, I always gave myself extra time when I needed to go there for an appointment or errand.  I loved having a reason to go there. 
The interior is just as fantastic as the exterior.  Intersecting walkways, open areas showing its multi-levels, light streaming in from what seem to be oddly placed windows but were clearly well-thought-out by the architect.  The stairways all seemed to end at a cube with a window.  They often posted security personnel in high traffic areas to direct people who got lost.  There were many. 
The decor showcased minimalism before I knew what that meant.  Look at the sleek benches in the photo above.  

Below you can see the first level area that housed the Department of Motor Vehicle office.  The marks on the carpeting indicate where the benches were for the waiting area, which is shown in the next photo.  
FYI - there was nothing modern and futuristic about our motor vehicle office, the wait was still excruciating, the system archaic, and the skill of the clerks...well, it's the DMV.

The last time I was in this building was 2006, just after my father died.  I had to get the title of his car switched into my name.  The building is now closed, so unless they renovate or re-open the building, that will be my last time inside those walls.     

In the photo below you can see the ridged concrete on the wall, which was rough, as if they just scored the concrete with fork tines.  It would snag your blouse if you got too close. 
When I drove by or walked around the building, I'd look up and wonder who was lucky enough to work behind those windows.  Who worked in that office?  Oooh, that guy's got a huge window.  I wonder what that woman over there is doing?  It seemed like an exotic place to work.

The building has been plagued with issues since it was built.  It leaked.  It wasn't energy efficient.  Repairs would be costly.  The town doesn't want to put money into it, but the people who love and appreciate architecture and the significance of things from the past don't want to see it destroyed.  I'm in the latter group.  
It's not so much about loving it or not.  It's about the importance to preserve something that has historical significance.  This building is as important as the current town hall, which is almost 200 years old.  Imagine if someone decided that wasn't worth saving?  In the future, people who see the value of conservation will be happy these structures exist.  You can't just erase what a handful of people don't like.  
And if you look at the building at a certain time of day, or during a certain season, or from a certain angle, it looks different.  In morning and evening light, in the rain when the concrete is wet, when the trees and flowers around it are in full bloom, or when the land surrounding it is blanketed in snow.  
Maybe its detractors need to take another look.  Give it a good stare.  Bring a picnic to the lawn and gaze up at history.  Perhaps they'll get a tiny glimpse of something they like and change their minds.

Because beauty comes in all forms.

** None of the photos in this post were taken by me.  They are courtesy of the Internet.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

2013: Have A Little Faith In The Romantic Comedy
2012: The Perfect Volunteer
2011: The Men Who Stare AT Goats
2010: A Peek At A Working Team
2009: Alligators Are Not A Girl’s Best Friend
2008: Forget Your Cholesterol. Get A Hearing Aid.
2007: Sizzling Good Time
2006: Amarillo May Smell Like Cow Shit, But They Have Some Pretty Tasty Steaks
2005: List Of Fives


mick said...

Thats a fantastic looking building, that I never knew existed. Thanks Salena.

Decorina said...

Salena, I have never, ever, read a heartfelt defense of a Brutalistic building, - I really hear what you said about it. The architects that I've worked with (and been married to) always claimed that the exact things that you loved about the building were truly motivational for them. The light, the quality of the space et al.

While I still think they are some of the worst buildings ever foisted on us (My eyes! My eyes!) you have actually made me feel a small amount of respect for the architect that designed that pile. That said: the roofs always leaked and you could seldom figure out where to enter the things.

As to the "woody goody" that they built in front of it: that thing should just be demolished. It is just a residential structure on steroids.

The Daily Rant said...

MICK: You're welcome! Glad you liked the post. It's funny how some of these places are right under our noses and we have no idea. I often think that when I learn about other places in the area where I grew up that for some reason, I never knew about!

DECORINA: Yes, this type of building does tend to lean on the ugly-ish side...LOL...but I'd imagine those in the business (like the architects you know and love) all see a certain something. I grew up in this area and I never knew this style of building had a name or was so hot a topic among real preservationists. It was just an out-of-place building to me. Weird and cool, but out of place nonetheless. :)

Gil said...

Never knew about this building. There are others around similar in design. They are also prone to leaks and expensive to maintain. From what I remember the sharp angles and such was going to be the look of the future. Well, until the maintenance costs came into view. The University of Connecticut Law Library is another example of this style of building.

Gil said...

Might be the regular University of Connecticut Library. Too bad we can't edit remarks....