Paul Rudolph’s Masterpiece at Risk

Orange County Government Center by © New York Times - Tony Cenicola

Considered one of Paul Rudolph’s greatest achievements, the 1970’s Orange County Government Center is an icon of the late modernist era. Poor maintenance has lead to deterioration and in September a large flood caused extensive damage to the structure, forcing county officials to close the center. Since then, the county government has been calling for the building to be demolished. Last week, Orange County Executive Ed Diana proposed to replace the cultural icon with a $75 million, 175,000 square-foot mediocre building, offering only 22,000 square-feet of space more than the existing building. With renovation estimates around $67.2 million, or $40.9 million for a “less extensive upgrade”, the architectural and preservationist communities are outraged. Continue reading for more. 

Orange County legislators are currently divided on whether to demolition or preserve the government center, and a vote may take place in April. Speak up now and help save this endangered brutalist legacy. Need more motivation? Check out the entire proposal for the “new” government center here. Find more information on how you can help save the Orange County Government Center here.

Orange County Executive Edward A. Diana’s New Government Center Proposal

Reference: Culture Grrl, World Monuments Fund

Cite: Rosenfield, Karissa. "Paul Rudolph’s Masterpiece at Risk" 13 Mar 2012. ArchDaily. Accessed 24 May 2015. <>
  • CBradshaw

    This is an unfortunate reality that we face in the industry. However it teaches a very important lesson- plan and think very seriously about the sustainability of your structures.

    • Sam

      I agree, this building was probably poorly detailed, shame on the original architect.

      However, the proposed replacement building is atrociously bland. It looks like some cheap Sketchup first-year student Victorian revival.

      • ygogolak

        Shame on the Architect? They said what happened:
        “Poor maintenance has lead to deterioration”
        Would you drive your car for 10 years without changing the oil or tires?

  • Eric Chancellor
  • n

    This will be a crime against architectural history. What a shame and why would anyone sign (especially an architect) to build and replace it!

  • Pingback: Masterpiece at Risk… | Richard Wilkinson

  • scott m

    I think Historic Preservationists should be renamed, “Historic Revisionists”.

    After practicing in America for nearly 10 years, I’ve often found that Historic Preservation Committees are often made of “volunteers”. School teachers, moms, retired politicians. Whom have little to no experience in architecture or architectural history.

    It is those “volunteers”, however trained or in-experienced, often make the most important decisions in a building’s survival or death. And however subjective it may seem, most Committee members want to live either before WWII or wish to re-make all buildings to something before that era. Why?

    Why can’t Americans embrace the pluralism and messiness of history? And respect the each era’s culture of building? How will Preservationists deal with the 1970s & po-mo 1980′s?

    • FSA

      Perhaps it would be an idea to not build these buildings were normal people with no architectural education live and are then?

  • Dennis Moss Jnr

    yes, it would be a great pity if this were demolished, but do architects seriously expect every important modern 20th century building to be preserved? especially Brutalist structures like these, which almost every layperson would think is atrocious.
    let’s be honest, these are buildings only an architect could love. the same goes for most of the utopian social housing schemes of the ’60s. and many others. i am an architect, so i can see the value, but i can also see that most people won’t understand (or don’t care).
    @ scott m: you speak about “volunteers” who have “little to no experience in architecture”… if someone needs an architectural education to understand the value of a particular building, what does it say about that building? or about architects?
    at the end of the day it’s a matter of resources and sustainability, like CBradshaw says. unfortunately the structural daring, materiality and spatial organisation that made Brutalism so powerful is also its greatest weakness, because it ages so badly, causing great expense to the owner.
    without intervention these concrete wonders wouldn’t last more than a century…

    • Tuomas

      Have to say,

      this is really elegant ang organic for a 20th century building. It really hasn’t seen any brutalism of anykind, at least in a way it is seen in Europe. Take my word on it as an European architect.

      Replacing a building is another thing. What is really ecological is to keep old structures and renew them even it costs as much as new one (usually does). LEED in calcs does really not result to ecological results but merely to vague feeling doing something right without calculating it.

      Neo-anything always raises a question whether replacing something is involved with qustionable taste more than technical or economical reasons.

      Really, is that kind of proposal in USA really serious? Wouldn’t be in Europe’s northern countries.

  • R.Aller

    It’s a pity that those who never chanced to see this buidling in reality will have to see it through pictures only. Had we paid more attention to the beautiful structures that surround us, time would have seized to forget them, as is the case here.

    • Bennett Weiss

      A pity?
      The far greater shame is that you would force people who hate this building to live with every day of their lives.
      What egos! Whar arrogance!

  • Dan Donn

    the horror, the HORROR!!!

  • gusta

    like everything else in nature, building also are created, they born, rise, decay and… die. too bad this is a classic modernism building.
    A local great classic modern architect (almost 90 years old now) city had this great answer as he faced the demolition of one of his great projects from mid 40s, also preserved by docomomo. he said: “it´s old anyway, give me the opportunity to make something new and i´ll create another classic”. A message to you Rudy.

    • Doug C.

      That message won’t reach him, he’s been dead since 1997.

  • DMK

    I think calling the proposed replacement “mediocre” is too generous.