Rough on Rudolph
The New York Times article about the Paul Rudolph county government center in Goshen, N.Y. that is threatened with demolition, has fueled a keen (and since this is 2012, a rather rude) debate. Many conservationists’ attitude to old buildings is that they should be treated like art, that is, carefully preserved. The problem is that buildings, unlike paintings, are fixed in place. Art that falls out of favor doesn’t have to be destroyed, it can simply be taken out of the front room and put in the back, or in a museum’s open storage, or ultimately in a suburban warehouse. It is available to be pulled out, if the need arises, that is if tastes change. One thinks of French pompier art of the late 19th century. It was popular—everything starts by being popular with whoever paid for it—then fell out of favor, then was resurrected (see the Musée d’Orsay). Musical compositions can be played, or not played, or rediscovered and played anew. But a building is a part of one’s world, like it or not. It must be lived in and with. One argument is to err on the side of conservation, assuming that at some future time someone will see something that eludes us. Certainly was the case with Frank Furness, and with Rudolph today. But maintenance and change are an essential part of a building’s life. A building that is unloved will have a hard time of it; it will not be taken care of, and it will be insensitively altered. Maybe Rudolph’s building shouldn’t be demolished, but should it be conserved?