by Michael J. Crosbie and Mitchell/ Giurgola Architects
An article in the New York Times late in 2005 reported on the escalating demise of brutalist buildings designed and constructed during the post-war years — the hard-edged, unforgiving, sterile, and often-humorless creations of modernism's aging gurus and, especially, their uninspired copyists.
The article noted that the rush to crush these aging monoliths is difficult to argue with. Even on their best days, some of these buildings were not easy to love. By current standards they may have substandard heating and air-conditioning systems, poor lighting, minimal chase space, drafty exterior walls, asbestos and other toxic materials, crumbling concrete exposing rusting rebar, not to mention urban rudeness, contextual hostility, and monumental invulnerability.
Today, these "boomer buildings" can be energy sieves and (for their owners) money pits. Ripping them down can seem like the kindest thing to do (and poetic justice for the works of designers who themselves had little sympathy for historic structures). Mitchell/ Giurgola Architects shows there is a far more intelligent and creative answer than the wrecking ball.
Designed in 1969, the New York County Family Court Building is a granite-clad civic structure in downtown Manhattan containing nearly 500,000 gross square feet (46,000 square meters) of space. By the late 1990s, a number of serious deficiencies had arisen, among them that the exterior cladding was coming loose from its anchorage.
The building is in the Civic Court District, where buildings vary in age and design, but many share unifying elements: use of light-colored stone, elements of architectural detail, and an architectural language that brings a certain dignity to the area. The Family Court Building, an unapologetic brutalist structure, was largely lacking in these qualities.
Discuss this article in the Architecture Forum...
This article is excerpted from Boomer Buildings: Mid-Century Architecture Reborn by Mitchell/ Giurgola Architects and Michael J. Crosbie, with permission of the publisher, Images Publishing Group.
New York County Family Court Building after renovation by Mitchell/ Giurgola Architects.
Photo: © Jeff Goldberg/ ESTO/ composited by Mitchell/ Giurgola Architects
Problematic facade before renovation.
Photo: Mitchell/ Giurgola Architects
Click on thumbnail images
to view full-size pictures.