What’s left of Michael Reese Hospital

Demolition has started on the old Main building at Michael Reese Hospital, the 1907 Schmidt Garden Martin building which was the ONLY one that the city was planning to preserve, despite the presence of 8 Walter Gropius designs on the hospital campus. Then in the last few months, the city admitted that the building – which it has owned for over a year, was in severe disrepair and further endangered by squatters, which is a hell of a stewardship model if you ask me. With ownership come basic responsibilities. Check out Lee Bey’s recent blog.

The whole saga has been tragic, because the original plan was to build the 2016 Olympic Village there, and that is not going to happen. Given the real estate market, this land will be dumb dead for the next generation. It took the city 19 years to build on Block 37, and that is right in the center of downtown.

But they went ahead and tore down the buildings which Grahm Balkany had proved were designed in significant part by the modern master Walter Gropius. This included the fabulous Kaplan pavilion with its sunshades, shades of every high modernist from Corbu on.

Interestingly, there is one Gropius building left on the campus, mothballed. The preservation community is a little burned out on this whole issue, and there seems little interest in expending the effort on one surviving example of the Gropius campus along the lake, a bookend to Mies van der Rohe’s IIT campus a half-mile away. But upon reflection, I think we need to save this one. Not because it is the best – those were torn down under protest – but because it is still there and it has value – both design value, re-use value and last and least, commemorative value. See Lynn Becker’s take on the demolition here.

The Singer Building is now the only survivor, and it did win an AIA Award in 1951. I understand advocacy fatigue and have suffered it many times. But we can’t let this incredible architectural legacy – mostly lost – be completely lost. The Michael Reese Hospital saga is a failure of public policy and a failure of building conservation. It is a failure of sustainability, too, as Lynn detailed above in calculating how many millions of gallons of energy is wasted when we destroy this many buildings. But it isn’t over. Let’s save this one.

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