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Coming to Grips with Brutalist Architecture

Author: Bradley Castiglia

Buffalo-Niagara has a large an almost spectacular amount of brutalist buildings within its region. From the 1974 City Court Building (designed by Pfohl, Roberts, and Biggie, a Buffalo firm), or the Buffalo News Building (designed by Edward Durrell Stone, a preeminent NYC architect), this region has plenty of iconic concrete structures from the 1960’s and 1970’s. Now, Citylab has recently published an article on the very controversial Earl W. Bridges Library in Niagara Falls. This building was designed by the should-be-famous chair of Yale’s architecture department, Paul Rudolph, and completed in 1974, around the same time as his other controversial work, the Shoreline Apartments.

In this structure, Rudolph was inspired to create a comfortable cathedral of learning with a generous amount of soft light, gothic inspired ceilings, and nave like reading room plan. The controversy started mid-construction when the building began to leak and the moisture appeared within the ceilings and walls, everywhere that it was important to stay dry. So, once the building was done, the city refused to take it, and a nasty court battle went on between the architect (Rudolph), and the contractor (Albert Elia & Co.). To make matters worse, it appears the architect didn’t care at all and refused to appear before the city council. It seemed that all the contractor did was blame the architect, and all the architect did was blame the contractor. This problem lasted until in 1981 (7 years after opening), the city sued both the contractor and Mr. Rudolph for $6 million each. A year later, in 1982, the building was renovated and pronounced leak-free, but the city never forgot this issue. Rudolph eventually did pay $1.12million and the contractor paid $1.1 million to the city, but neither side could leave the shadow of this building.

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The court case and eventual pay-up damaged Paul Rudolph and his career badly. The former chair of Yale architecture, who had designed countless projects in Florida and New England was forced to find work further outside of the United States, and for the rest of his career (spanning another decade) he designed buildings in Asia (particularly Singapore and Hong Kong). Rudolph died in 1998 without very much recognition and generally forgotten as a fringe-ridden architect. Today only a few of his buildings remain due to the hatred and easy bulldoze-ibility of brutalism as a whole. And as Rudolph gains more notoriety twenty years after his death, it is important for us to recognize the beauty and understanding of these awesome structures, particularly the many cases in the Niagara region. 

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Written by Buffalo Rising

Buffalo Rising

Sometimes the authors at Buffalo Rising work on collaborative efforts in order to cover various events and stories. These posts can not be attributed to one single author, as it is a combined effort. Often times a formation of a post gets started by one writer and passed along to one or more writers before completion. At times there are author attributions at the end of one of these posts. Other times, “Buffalo Rising” is simply offered up as the creator of the article. In either case, the writing is original to Buffalo Rising.

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