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News February 2017

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Plans to raze two state-owned buildings in New Jersey move forward

February 20, 2017

This past September, the State of New Jersey announced redevelopment plans for downtown Trenton that call for the demolition of existing government buildings, one of which is a substantial two-building Modern complex designed by Alfred and Jane West Clauss. Simple in form—one is cylindrical and the other cubed—these precast concrete buildings with their steel-and-glass sky bridges offer a bold Modern statement in an otherwise lackluster skyline. 

The complex was built in 1962-1963 to house the Departments of Health and Agriculture Building and Laboratory. The “Health and Ag” building was part of a larger development project at the time, which included the Department of Labor and Industry Complex, designed by Frank Grad & Sons. Both firms worked extensively in the tri-state region during the mid-20th century. Munich-born Alfred Clauss spent a year with Mies van der Rohe, with whom he worked on the Barcelona Pavilion, before immigrating to the US. His wife, Jane West, spent five years in the Paris office of Le Corbusier. In 1930, Clauss had become a designer with Howe & Lescaze, working on the landmark PSFS Building in Philadelphia. In 1931, Alfred organized the “Salon des Refuses” for architects who found themselves excluded from the annual Architectural League of New York exhibition. From 1938 to 1944, Alfred and Jane designed seven speculative residences near Knoxville that are considered to be among the earliest International Style homes in the country.

In January, the New Jersey State Historic Preservation Office issued an opinion declaring the Health and Ag complex eligible for listing on the State and National Registers of Historic Places. DOCOMOMO NY/Tri-State supports this finding and is currently preparing to submit a letter of testimony. Meanwhile, there is an ongoing dialogue between the State’s Economic Development Authority (EDA), the City of Trenton, and a local stakeholder’s group about specifics of the proposed plan. Public input will be gathered at a series of upcoming meetings, the dates of which can be found on the EDA’s website

It is worth noting that the SHPO opinion also identified the nearby New Jersey Cultural Center (1962-1964) as Modern resource eligible for listing. The complex was built for New Jersey’s tercentenary in 1964 and was also designed by Frank Grad & Sons, as well as the Trenton firm Kramer, Hirsch, & Carchidi.

Christie taking a wrecking ball to ‘outdated’ State office buildings in Trenton,” NJ.com, September 7, 2016. 

Department of Health and Agriculture Complex, Trenton, Alfred Clauss and Jane West Clauss, 1962-63. Photo courtesy www.roadsidearchitecture.com.
NJ State Museum, part of the NJ Cultural Complex, Trenton, Frank Grad & Sons, 1962-64. Photo ©Fun Things to do in New Jersey.