Saturday, June 9, 2012

Save the Ugly Ducklings

Architecture’s Ugly Ducklings May Not Get Time to Be Swans

Fred R. Conrad/The New York Times

The Orange County Government Center in Goshen, N.Y., has been closed since it was damaged by storms in September.


Published: April 7, 2012

GOSHEN, N.Y. — 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.
Fred R. Conrad/The New York Times
The Orange County Government Center in Goshen, N.Y., has been closed since it was damaged by storms in September.

The conflict has come in recent months to this quaint village 60 miles north of New York City — with its historic harness-racing track, picturesque Main Street and Greek Revival, Federal and Victorian houses — where the blocky concrete county government center designed by the celebrated Modernist architect Paul Rudolph has always been something of a misfit.

“I just don’t think it fits with the character of the county seat and the village of Goshen,” said Leigh Benton, an Orange County legislator who grew up in the area. “I just thought it was a big ugly building.”

Completed in 1967, 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.

Edward A. Diana, the Orange County executive, wants to demolish it, an idea that has delighted many residents but alarmed preservationists, local and national, who say the building should be saved. The county legislature is expected to decide whether to demolish or renovate it next month.

Those who want to save it call it a prime example of an architectural style called Brutalism that rejected efforts to prettify buildings in favor of displaying the raw power of simple forms and undisguised building materials, like the center’s textured facade.

“Preservation is not simply about saving the most beautiful things,” said Mark Wigley, the dean of Columbia’s Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation. “It’s about saving those objects that are an important part of our history and whose value is always going to be a subject of debate.”

A similar debate is going on in Chicago, where preservationists have been fighting to save Prentice Women’s Hospital, a concrete, cloverleaf-shaped 1974 structure designed by Bertrand Goldberg that the National Trust for Historic Preservation has placed on its endangered list. In New Haven, the 1972 Veterans Memorial Coliseum was demolished in 2007 despite a campaign to rescue it.

In Manhattan, 2 Columbus Circle, the 1964 “lollipop” building by Edward Durell Stone, escaped demolition but was renovated in 2008 in a way that stripped away its original facade.

Preserving charming confections from the 18th- and 19th-century can be a struggle; convincing people to keep more recent, decidedly uncute structures built from 1950 into the 1970s can be a battle of an entirely higher magnitude, especially if they’ve sprung leaks.

“The phenomenon of a building that’s about 30 to 40 years old being severely out of style and leading to people wanting to alter it or demolish it is very real,” said Frank Sanchis, the director of United States programs at the World Monuments Fund page, about the Orange County Government Center here. The fund put the Goshen building on its 2012 watch list.

Opinions are even stronger when it comes to Brutalism, a style closely associated with the Swiss architect Le Corbusier, and one that tends to produce weighty monoliths like the F.B.I. headquarters in Washington and Boston City Hall.

In an interview Theodore Dalrymple, a fellow at the Manhattan Institute who has written about the architecture of Le Corbusier, described Brutalist buildings as “absolutely hideous, like scouring pads on the retina.”

“One of those buildings can destroy an entire cityscape that has been built up over hundreds of years,” he said.

Barry Bergdoll, the chief curator of architecture and design at the Museum of Modern Art, said: “Brutalism was supposed to bring back all sorts of things like craft — the concrete wasn’t smooth, you could feel the hand of the worker there. But it was perceived in almost the exact opposite way. It’s one of the great public relations failures of all time. Most people think of Brutalist architecture literally — as aggressive, heavy, boding and forbidding.”

Rudolph, who died in 1997, was a prominent Modernist architect who also designed Yale’s Art and Architecture Building, among others. Architectural historians say the Goshen government center, which features protruding cubes and a corrugated concrete facade resembling corduroy, represents Rudolph at his best.

“I would easily identify this as one of his top 10,” said Sean Khorsandi, a director of the Paul Rudolph Foundation.

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. 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. The government offices that were in the center have dispersed around the county.

“I’m a pretty modern type of person when it comes to architecture and paintings,” said Mr. Diana, the county executive. “If the building functioned in the right manner and was effective and efficient, I’d leave the building right where it is.”

Economics aside, many say the Rudolph building simply has never belonged in Goshen and never will.

“It’s just so out of place,” said Barbara Hatfield, a longtime county resident. “Goshen is the county seat. There’s a lot of history there.”

But others argue that the building is part of the area’s history, too.

“It reflects a snapshot in time in the late ’60s and ’70s, when our history was turbulent,” said Patricia Turner, a resident trained as an architect who wants to save the building. “Isn’t that just as relevant as something that happened in 1868?”

John Hildreth, a vice president at the National Trust, said architectural taste changes over time and then can change again.

“There was a time when people weren’t concerned about saving Victorian houses, bungalows, Art Deco buildings — all were not favored styles,” he said. “You have to focus on the significance of the building and not its style, because styles will come and go. We’re at a point where we’re evaluating the recent past and coming up against that.”

Historians also say appreciating architecture can require an education.

“It’s like saying, ‘I don’t like Pollock because he splattered paint,’ ” said Nina Rappaport, chairwoman of Docomomo-New York/Tri-State, an organization that promotes the preservation of Modernist architecture. “Does that mean we shouldn’t put it in a museum? No, it means we teach people about these things.”

But Mr. Dalrymple said the notion that the public needs to be educated to appreciate Brutalism is like saying that people “need to be intimidated out of their taste.”

No expertise is needed to decide that a building is ugly, he said, adding, “It’s an aesthetic judgment.”

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Tulip Chair

Today I picked up a Daystrom copycat of the classic tulip chair first created by Eero Saarinen. He and his firm designed the St. Louis Gateway Arch.

What is interesting is that the knockoff itself is from 1963, and thus a rather good representation of mid-century modern art.

Eero Saarinen

New vintage used Daystrom chair:

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Art Deco-Style Mural Removed



The present location of the mural is unknown. Strange Maine, indeed.

Almost in the dead of night, literally during the media quiet of the weekend, agents of Maine's Governor Paul LePage, one of the Tea Party's golden boys, removed an art deco-style mural from the Maine Department of Labor office sometime on March 25-27, 2011.

Governor LePage adds a dark page to the art history of Maine.

The 36-foot mural of Maine labor history was quietly removed from the Maine Department of Labor office in Augusta over the weekend, Department of Labor spokesperson Adam Fisher told The New England Journal of Aesthetic Research. Governor Paul LePage called for the mural’s removal last week because he found it offensively pro-labor, and said he received a handful of anonymous complaints from business owners. Asked who ordered it removed, who removed it, where is it now, and what are the plans for it, Fisher replied, “I’ll direct your other questions to the Governor’s office for response.” 

By sad coincidence, Friday was the 100th anniversary of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire in New York City. The March 25, 1911 fire was the deadliest industrial disaster in the history of the city of New York and resulted in the fourth highest loss of life from an industrial accident in U.S. history. The fire caused the deaths of 146 garment workers, who either died from the fire or jumped to their deaths.

Outrageous. Incredible.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Art Deco in Mothman Country

I recently visited Point Pleasant, West Virginia, to be filmed for a Mothman interview. 

While there I noted an especially beautiful example of Art Deco theater construction.

This classic location - the old State Theater - stands empty in Point Pleasant. If I had the money, I’d buy it and run Mothman movies and 1930s films, non-stop. The building is an Art Deco treasure. Hopefully, someone will save it.

Even some of the nearby locations have the flavor of the 1950s about them. Pictured below is Carol Harris at her Harris Steak House, which is also called "The Mothman Diner."

Monday, January 3, 2011


Boat designer Paul Goldman's unique conversion to furniture maker gave us the Plymold (Plymodern) company of Lawrence, Massachusetts, which existed for only one year, 1946.  It evolved into Plycraft (not to be confused with the modern Plycraft company).

While the total historic reality of some of the facts in the following obituary may be in dispute, it was published upon the death of Paul Goldman. I pass it along as the best concise information available on the man and his works.

Paul R. Goldman 

LOS ANGELES, Calif. -- Paul R. Goldman, 91, formerly of Andover, Mass., and president of Plycraft, Inc., in Lawrence, Mass., died Aug. 12, 2003, in Los Angeles.
Mr. Goldman graduated from the Boys Latin School in Boston, Brookline, Mass., High School, Class of 1931, and the University of Pennsylvania, Wharton School of Economics, Class of 1935.
He married Sylvia Kravath of Dorchester, Mass., and Hull, Mass., in 1935. They were married close to 60 years before she died in March 1995.
The Goldmans moved to the Lawrence area in 1937 and resided at 8 Joyce Terrace in Andover from 1941 to 1994. Mr. Goldman bought the Joyce Castle Estate on North Main Street in Shawsheen Village in Andover and developed the Castle Heights neighborhood on that land.
Mr. Goldman started building his own sailboats and then went into the woodworking business in Lawrence. In his initial business, the Plywood Corp., Mr. Goldman developed Plytube, a molded plywood tubing. With this, he designed and manufactured Plytube products for the U.S. military during World War II and the Korean conflict, including masts for the signal corps and dummy aircraft decoys among other things. After the war, he started making molded plywood furniture and in 1953, started Plycraft, Inc., in Lawrence, making fiberglass-covered boats. He later went back to plywood-molded furniture and continued in that business until 1994, when he and his wife moved to Florida.
Mr. Goldman is considered "the father of plywood technology" and a pioneer in the furniture industry. He was described as one of the "Horatio Algers" of his time in a Newsweek Magazine article in November 1962. The same article noted the installation of his chairs at the Lincoln Center in New York City. Mr. Goldman designed his own machinery to mold plywood veneer into complex shapes, creating beautiful and very comfortable furniture. His first molded chair was made for Herman Miller, then he continued to manufacture all of his own designs.
Mr. Goldman designed thousands of tables and chairs during what is known as the "mid-century modern period". Several of his chairs, including the "Mr. Chair" and the "Cherner Chair", have become classics of this period and are now sold as valuable antiques of that area. Numerous articles have been published about Mr. Goldman. He has been noted in books about this period, and some of his chairs have been on exhibition in museums around the world, including the Museum of Modern Art in Chicago. His most famous chair, "The Rockwell", was first produced in 1956 and is thus named as it appeared in a painting by the eminent artist, Norman Rockwell, on the cover of the Saturday Evening Post in September 1961. Another famous chair, coined "The Swinger" because of its shape, has also become a classic. It continues to be recommended by various medical specialties because of its ability to raise the legs above the user's chest, truly the first real healthy ergonomic chair. Companies all over the world have copied this design. Both "The Rockwell" and variations of "The Swinger: are still manufactured in the U.S.

At the top and the following are examples of Plymold furniture pieces.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Art Deco Mystery

What is the name on the back of this statue?  It has an unreadable (to me) signature and then ©98.  Is this for "copyright 1998" or "copyright 1898"?

Who is the artist?

What is the name of this piece? 

Click here and email your reply, if you wish not to use the comment section below.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

More NET&T Images

More detailed images from the facade of the old New England Telephone and Telegraph Company Building, located at the corner of Forest Avenue and Cumberland Avenue, Portland, Maine, are shared. Photos by Loren Coleman.