by Don Friedman on May 15, 2017

These photographs of the demolition of the Orange County Government Center designed by Paul Rudolph are heartbreaking even if brutalism isn’t your favorite style. It was an uncompromising expression of a never-popular style and, because it required non-standard detailing and repairs, it was not well maintained and had severe problems with leaks. Ultimately, there was a mismatch between, on the one hand, an architect and his vision and, on the other hand, the client and its capacity to adapt to using and maintaining a monument. My feeling is that no one comes out ahead with the destruction of this building.

The demolition photographs are uncomfortably beautiful. There’s a reason that ruin porn exists, after all, and it’s the same reason that people used to build garden follies that resembled ruins: they symbolically show the nature of time and aging, in a formally beautifully aesthetic. The photographs I took in 2013 show an architecturally interesting building with some facade staining and other damage from aging. Nothing particularly dramatic, nothing particularly beautiful, unless you find the building itself to be beautiful. The demolition photos are dramatic and beautiful: stripped of the minor damage and signs of use, they show us the building’s most basic geometry. Even more than they remind me of Piranesi‘s etching of ruins, like the one above, they remind me of the architectural fantasies he called “prisons” for no reason other than that use would explain the stark geometry of his imagination.

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