Posts Tagged ‘Prentice Women’s Hospital’

Save Prentice Movement Grows

July 27, 2012

“But just as a patient expects his doctor to pull out all stops in search of a cure, Northwestern must pursue every avenue before daring to raze one of Chicago’s architectural and engineering treasures.

We don’t think they’re trying hard enough. Surely, there’s a solution.”

That is from an editorial in the Chicago Sun-Times yesterday, one of several actions that have ramped up the pressure on Northwestern University to explain why it needs to demolish Bertrand Goldberg’s pathbreaking 1975 Prentice Women’s Hospital, which I have been writing about here for over two years. The first building to use computers in aid of its design, Prentice is a song, a crescendo of 45-foot concrete cantilevers twirling into a quatrefoil of cylindrical skin delicately punched with ovals, a bold sculpture on a base that makes the regular buildings around it look dull-witted.

The architecture geeks have loved this building for a while, and of course I announced its ascension to the National Trust Eleven Most Endangered List a little over a year ago.

Then recently a posse of high profile architects, from Jeanne Gang to Frank Gehry joined the chorus. Then today Landmarks Illinois President Bonnie McDonald and Zurich Esposito of the AIA had an Op-Ed piece in the Chicago Tribune. As they say “In commissioning its new building for obstetrics, Northwestern Memorial Hospital sought to incorporate new ideas about women and childbirth. Goldberg’s design took these ideas and ran with them. The building’s floor plan made a family-oriented childbirth experience possible; fathers could be present for labor and delivery. In addition, the floor plan allowed nurses to be closer to patient rooms and have better lines of sight, improving women’s care.”

This social history is embedded in the building quite literally. And, as I pointed out two years ago, it is still cutting-edge: Bus kiosks in Chicago advertise the same cloverleaf plan used by the latest 2012 hospital building on the west side. What is old is new again.


Yes, but the building can’t be re-used, they say. Then how come Landmarks Illinois put together THREE DIFFERENT re-use scenarios for the building? Re-use requires more thinking and design skill, but why is that bad?

Heck, even if you don’t give a fig about architecture, why would anyone want ANOTHER VACANT LOT in what is rapidly becoming a Gobi Desert off North Michigan Avenue? Plus, there is NOTHING green about kicking up tons of dust dismantling a perfectly serviceable building, burning acres of gas trucking it 100 miles to a landfill, and then kicking up more dust and trees and gravel and sand and gasoline and uranium to make a new one.

I even spent the year scouting other locations for Northwestern, like this one that provides the same property tax revenue to the City of Chicago.

The problem for Northwestern is that they took a position that they could take as an 800-pound gorilla with huge economic and political clout. But they have been faced with intelligent arguments about the significance of the building, re-use and sustainable urbanism and they have not responded intelligently. Time to stop being a gorilla, guys.

AUGUST 15 UPDATE

The other shoe has finally fallen. Almost 20 years ago I noticed that the “bad guys” in preservation battles had stopped being real estate developers, in part because so many of them recognized the marketing and branding value of old buildings, and some of them had figured out how to make the various tax benefits work. The bad guys, by the early 90s, were increasingly not-for-profit institutions, especially those that needed land to maintain their fundraising – like universities and hospitals. So, while we might laud the Sun-Times (while slamming the Trib – goodbye subscription!) and the architects who joined Frank Gehry, and the great Paul Goldberger, let’s raise a toast to developer Paul Beitler, who just came out in favor of saving Prentice.

Northwestern is holding tight and pushing out its magical jobs and investment numbers. And claiming the building is obsolete. Get it straight: this is not about obsolescence. It isn’t even about jobs and investment (this is not the only vacant block in the immediate vicinity, much less the neighborhood or city). It is about more profits to a not-for-profit that is worth $7 billion dollars.

No wonder they think they always get their way.

August 26 Update: Great article from Cheryl Kent today.
August 27 Update: Crain’s Chicago Business Editorial says NO to Northwestern’s demolition plan, calls them out for phoning it in….
August 28 Update: Deanna Isaacs in the Reader also calls out Northwestern for their addled response/justification. Why does someone with $7 billion play dimestore PR?

September 18 UPDATE: Now, like four years later, Northwestern decides to announce a design competition for its unfunded, unplanned, supposed research center, as reported in the Tribune today. Meanwhile, the last two famous architects who hadn;t yet joined the Save Prentice Movement signed up – Renzo Piano and Kevin Roche. At the risk of repeating myself a month later, how does one of the richest (non-profit) corporations in the state excuse such a lame, unprepared, unreasoned and transparently facetious public relations strategy?

It really isn’t fair. On the one side you have architects, urbanists, and re-use studies, and on the other side you have a schoolyard bully whose best attempt to verbalize his rage comes out as a whining “Unh-Unh!!”

HALLOWEEN 2012: AND THE BULLY WINS!

Mayor Rahm Emanuel has sided with Northwestern and demolition. So that does it. I will give the Mayor $5 for every job created on that site prior to his next election, not including demolition and landscaping.

You should see the landscaping they are planning for the site!!! It. is. SO. GREAT!

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False Choices and the Process of Preservation

April 12, 2012

I am fond of saying that heritage conservation (historic preservation) is a process. It is the process whereby a community (however defined and constituted) determines what elements of its past it wants to bring into the future. The process consists of establishing context (historical, architectural, environmental, social), criteria, evaluating resources (tangible and intangible) and then determining how we want to treat those resources in the future.

Reportedly the largest chandelier in the United States and the 7th largest in the world. Would you hold a party under this for a 25-year old preservation planner who had been working in the field for less than three years? I will be there again tomorrow.

We have been getting questions a lot lately about the wisdom of Prentice Women’s Hospital, one of the National Trust’s National Treasures and the most important preservation issue in Chicago for the last two years or more.

This building is a bold statement, a brilliant combination of engineering and architectural design. It is the first building designed with the aid of a computer. I love it, aesthetically. So do a lot of other people. But a lot of people hate it, also aesthetically. I think the reasons behind this are:

1. It is a bold expression. People love or hate such expressions.

2. It is modernism, and probably viewed as Brutalism by some, and Brutalism has a bad rap, and a bad name, although if we had avoided Francophony and called it Concrete Style it might not have been better.

3. It is modernism, which like modern art, deceives many into confusing what can be VERY difficult-to-achieve simplicity with my-kid-could-do-that simplicity. The lack of ornament signifies for some a lack of polish, even though great modernism is much harder BECAUSE of the lack of ornament: scale, proportion and detail are magnified in importance.

4. It was built in 1975. For decades, I have been fond of saying that if you take any American family photo album and look at 1975, people will look their worst, regardless of age or gender, due to a perfect storm of clothing fashion disasters that coalesced that year. So maybe people are remembering – with appropriate horror and denial – what they were wearing when Prentice was built.

But some people will not warm to this building, at least in the near future. As I have pointed out before, it was always like this. People LOATHED Victorian architecture for more than half a century, and Art Deco was anathema as recently as the aforementioned 1970s.

This was a slum then. And ugly. Really ugly. Now it is REALLY expensive and REALLY beautiful.

There is a second aspect here that affects both the public perception of why we keep certain buildings and streetscapes and landscapes and the professional practice of heritage conservation. Charles Birnbaum just wrote a great blog about the battle over a Brutalist plaza in Minneapolis and he talked a lot about false choices.

The first false choice is the one Birnbaum describes. Officials or owners want to tear something down, so they get an estimate of what it would cost to restore it like a museum object. That is always expensive, excessive, and – d’uh – a false choice. Conserving buildings is about adaptive re-use, not museums.

The second false choice is between what is there and what might be there. When I worked for Landmarks Illinois and advocated landmarking of buildings and sites in Chicago I always pointed out that the landmarking process was only concerned with whether the site or structure met the criteria, not what it might be replaced with. While this argument gained some traction from the Commission on Chicago Landmarks, it held no water for the City Council, which said it wanted to see what the alternative was.

This sword cuts both ways. Sometimes the proposal will swing the pols and the public to the side of preserving because it the alternative is so awful. In other cases it will have the opposite effect, because the new thing looks swell. In the case of Prentice it can work both ways: some commenter said ANYTHING would look better on the site, and Northwestern promises a millions-of-dollars and hundreds-of-jobs Research Center on the site, BUT…. they aren’t saying when, or what, really. The only image they are offering is a green vacant lot with a fence around it. Lovely. Can’t. Wait.


One of my favorite vacant lots – Block 37! It was only vacant for 19 years and then it was built on three years ago. And then it went bankrupt!

The underlying assumption is that the potential donor who will fund the $200 million research sometime in the next generation or two will PREFER a vacant lot, in order to better envision the new building. Funny thing about it is, leaving the building there gives that future donor at least one MORE option than they would have with a vacant lot. The “blank slate” theory of creativity, which posits – illogically – that it is more creative to imagine something from nothing than something within a context. No, in fact imagining something within a context or within an existing structure is HARDER to do. Go back up there to the “my-kid-could-do-that” argument.

Mayor Emanuel fumbles first landmarks test

July 8, 2011

Okay, so a couple years ago a career gadfly and scold sued the City of Chicago claiming the Landmarks Ordinance was vague and arbitrary, the sort of legal challenge first-year law students learn about before they move on to the real stuff. But this is Chicago, and this is Illinois, and three judges at the Appellate level agreed with the charge, mostly based on the fact that the criteria in the ordinance were “vague” because they used words like “significant” and “values” and “importance” which of course caused me to opine and label the whole thing “Appellate Nuttiness” at the time.

The case is still out there and now we have Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who is already facing the question of whether we should have three vacant city blocks in a row just east of Michigan Avenue in Streeterville (the Prentice Women’s Hospital issue) and he also gets to appoint people to the Commission on Chicago Landmarks, who are by ordinance “professionals in the disciplines of history, architecture, historic architecture, planning, archaeology, real estate, historic preservation, or related fields, or shall be persons who have demonstrated special interest, knowledge, or experience in architecture, history, neighborhood preservation, or related disciplines.”

Now, if you are concerned about a case that challenges your ordinance, you might follow the ordinance in selecting those professionals. But the Mayor fumbled. He named an obstetrician (who delivered the President’s daughters) and a chef to the panel and removed the last architect and architectural historian. This is a fumble in dry conditions without an excuse, and the Tribune’s Blair Kamin has done an excellent job reporting it today here.

Architects Ben Weese and Ed Torrez are off the Commission, as is National Park Service veteran Phyllis Ellin and longtime community preservationist Yvette LeGrand. Eleanor Gorski has succeeded Brian Goeken as the Deputy Commissioner and leader of the Commission staff, and she is an architect and Rome Prize winner so that is good. But how will this look to the courts questioning whether the ordinance is “arbitrary” in its application? A chef? How will the new commissioners deal with Prentice, a triumph of architecture united with engineering, if they are seeing it from the obstetrician’s point of view?

Oh, wait…

JULY 13 UPDATE: Ben Weese – one of the architects sacked from the Commission – sent a REALLY nice letter to the Mayor saying you know, you might want to have an architect on the Commission to like look at building permits and, like, architecture? See Blair Kamin today.

Crunch Time on Prentice

June 1, 2011

Tomorrow, June 2, 2011, the Commission on Chicago Landmarks will consider preliminary designation of Prentice Women’s Hospital as a Chicago Landmark. This is the result of a joint efforts by Landmarks Illinois, Preservation Chicago and the National Trust for Historic Preservation (which used a photo of Prentice on its new Financial Assistance publication!) to give the building its day in court, or in the words of Landmarks Illinois Advocacy Director Lisa DiChiera “This building is just too high-profile to let it slip away without a thorough, transparent review of its landmark eligibility.”

It does not look good. Northwestern Hospital has so much clout that the new Mayor (see last post for what he could have done) and even the Alderman – who asked for a 60-day delay on demolition, and even two of the three architects who developed a comprehensive re-use study for the old (1975 is old?) hospital kept their names off of it. This is a lot of clout. The ability to keep this much of the most valuable acreage between Manhattan and San Francisco off of the tax rolls and have the city thank you for it is A LOT of clout.

Not only that, but despite the architectural importance of the building – by Chicago icon Bertrand Goldberg, a singular modernist, a veteran of Mies’ Bauhaus who nonetheless charted a different path both formally and theoretically. This building is one of the first to use computers in the design, to get that stunning 15m-concrete cantilever without breaking the beautiful curving lines. It is like a flower. Like a flower.

There is a generation that does not “get” this architecture, that is concerned that it is only 36 years old, even though that is EXACTLY the age of 860-880 North Lake Shore Drive (Mies van der Rohe) when the Commission on Chicago Landmarks voted preliminary determination of eligibility.

The generation that does not “get” it is unfortunately represented in large numbers in the immediate neighborhood, and I am not talking about inpatients but the local neighborhood group, which did NOT ask for its preservation. They are called SOAR (Streeterville Organization of Active Residents) and I am a little surprised because they STOOD WITH US 22 years ago to save the John Hancock Building, which was only 21 years old at the time.


One of the awful ironies of this situation is that NOTHING is going to be put there if Northwestern gets it way and demolishes the building. I don’t know that it will sit vacant for 19 YEARS like Block 37 did, but I can pretty much guarantee a half dozen. They are planning a green, fenced space. No access, no parking. I suppose that turns down the volume on the lost tax revenue issue. Huge net loss for the neighborhood, though.

Blair Kamin of the Chicago Tribune has been great on this issue, as have all three preservation organizations involved. We have gotten support from all around the country, and many are saying that this will be a watershed for the preservation of mid-century Modernism. Maybe now everyone will “get” it, the same way they “got” the Prairie School when the Robie House was saved in 1957, the same was they “got” Victorian architecture when the Jefferson Market Courthouse was preserved in 1967, the same way they “got” vernacular historic districts when Old Town was landmarked in 1977, the same way they “got” the church preservation issue when Holy Family and St. Mary of the Angels were threatened in 1987, the same way they “got” the need for local landmark protection when City Council designated 26 landmarks in 1997, the same way they “got” sustainability as the ultimate preservation modality in 2007.

Some may not “get” the beauty, historical value and urbanistic appeal of this building today. but pretty much everyone will within a decade. I have seen it happen many, many times before, as the above litany illustrates. I am watching the same thing unfold here.

And if it is lost, it will be important to put down the names of those who demolished it and save those names for posterity.

The Moving Finger writes.

WHAT HAPPENED JUNE 2: Northwestern went into talks with the City and promised not to apply for a demolition permit in exchange for the talks, and no preliminary determination from the Commission on Chicago Landmarks.

JUNE 15 UPDATE: Prentice is named one of the 11 Most Endangered Sites in the U.S. by the National Trust for Historic Preservation! I made the announcement at the Save Prentice Rally today!

We made the announcement in front of a full vacant block. Next to another vacant lot half-a-block large. Would you like Northwestern to create a THIRD vacant block in Streeterville?

HALLOWEEN 2012: AND THE BULLY WINS!

Mayor Rahm Emanuel has sided with Northwestern and demolition. So that does it. I will give the Mayor $5 for every job created on that site prior to his next election, not including demolition and landscaping.

Mayor Emanuel 2011

May 23, 2011

Chicago has a new Mayor, Rahm Emanuel, and he spent his first Saturday in office doing something aldermen usually do: expediting permits. It seems the University of Chicago – the city’s fifth largest employer- complained that it was taking them 23 months to get permits for decorative streetlights and various construction projects, so he sat down with them to see if he could cut that in half, approve some sort of master plan and get his city departments to coordinate their approvals. This of course has resonance with anyone who has ever dealt with bureaucracy, which is everyone. But there are a few lessons and a few cautions here.

After sorting out U of C’s master plan, Emanuel hopes to do the same with other universities. Make no mistake: universities and hospitals are the ONLY ones building things these days. Both types of institutions have a nearly insatiable appetite for land, which means they are the ones threatening landmarks like Prentice Women’s Hospital. U of C has mostly been taking down serviceable sustainable but otherwise undistinguished flat buildings in the area north of its hospital, which has been creeping north from 58th St for some time.

Helmut Jahn’s latest at U of C

So, lessons? One, clout happens. You are a major employer, you get an expedited process, and it does seem that a bureaucracy unencumbered by the demands of a private real estate development market would be able to expedite the needs of the ONLY builders nowadays, hospitals and universities.

Caution? Expedited process is often slang for “ignore regulations” which again makes all applicants and would-be applicants happy but could lead to much less felicitous results for the community as a whole, for the urban environment, and most pointedly, for the future. Moreover, approval of master plans might mean the loss of certain historic buildings, approved well in advance of the financing needed to replace them. No building and its embodied energy should EVER be demolished for speculation: only when financing is in place.

On the flip side, approving master plans could mean preservation of key landmarks. Emanuel has a golden opportunity here with Northwestern, sitting on the most valuable untaxed land in Chicago. He could approve a master plan that saves Prentice Hospital, expedites Northwestern’s process for their so-far imaginary research center, and perhaps trades them some land for the Prentice site, which could be rehabbed with tax credits and put back on the tax rolls.

Or,….

Sign the petition HERE

Prentice Women’s Hospital April 2011

April 11, 2011

The most significant preservation battle in Chicago for some time has been the effort to save Prentice Women’s Hospital, a pioneering 1975 design by Bertrand Goldberg. It’s four-lobed curving concrete form is being imitated by the NEWEST hospital building in Chicago and I called it perhaps the first acknowledgement of the feminine in architecture. My colleague Anthea Hartig said “The forms at Prentice are in the same instant structural and sculptural. This is truly the unity of art and function, the continuing discourse of artistic and engineering expressions.” The building’s seamless integration of art and science is manifest in concrete cantilevers that pushed the lobes 45 feet beyond their base, a feat that took one of the FIRST applications of computers to aid in an architectural design. And it’s gorgeous.

But rather than a seamless integration of art and science, the Chicago Tribune’s editorial board today called it a conflict between art and science. This artificial dichotomy comes up a lot in our field of heritage conservation. I can recall a panel assembled by a chamber of commerce group in Oak Park to discuss the conflict between preservation and development, another artificial dichotomy. Preservation is development, and science is art. False dichotomies are the refuge of scoundrels who can only count the beans in one silo at a time and hacks who can’t fathom art or science but are somehow charged with making room for one or the other.

Let’s read between the lines of the Tribune editorial. First, we need to set up the artificial dichotomy: what will the building be replaced by? Here is what the editorial says:

“Northwestern says the new (research) facility will form a state-of-the-art research complex with the adjacent Lurie Medical Research Center and draw 700 jobs and more than $300 million in federal grant money for biomedical research.”

Oh, so the landmark is being replaced by a $300 million research facility employing 700 people? NO, THAT’S NOT WHAT THEY SAID. Here is what Northwestern officials said last week when they announced they wanted to demolish the landmark:

“The university has looked at various alternatives including reuse of the facility and actually taking it down, and at this point, the university’s plans are to take that building down and use that area for additional research facilities that would be constructed in the future,”

THE FUTURE. This is a land bank. It is not clear whether the 700 jobs and $300 million are what would be ON THE SITE or what will be ADDED to the $200 million Feinberg research building. The wordsmithing does not isolate the Prentice site. Plus, Northwestern said clearly a week ago it is land banking. They will need a nice eight-figure donor to get this thing going and they haven’t announced that. I’m betting parking lot at least until my kids graduate high school.

The Trib editorial also doubts that Landmarks Illinois’ re-use plan will be persuasive, because:

“Northwestern says the building, built in 1975, uses only about one-third of the square footage that could comfortably be built on the site. The ceilings are too low to allow for the venting, heating, and cooling infrastructure needed for a modern research facility.”

Hard to know where to start with this masterpiece of misdirection. First, it WASN’T built as a research facility, so of course it doesn’t have the venting, heating and cooling capabilities. Neither do Northwestern’s NEW hospitals, because they – like Prentice – were built as hospitals, not research facilities! The REAL reason (land bank) is the first sentence – the building doesn’t use up its zoning.

This is the age-old preservation battle in Chicago, whether it was real estate developers and urban planners in the 1960s and 1970s or hospitals and universities in the 90s and 00s, it is ALL ABOUT LAND VALUE. Northwestern is in Streeterville, land that wouldn’t even exist if not for a rum-running rustabout named Cap Streeter who ran aground there 130 years ago, and now it is in the shadow of the highest priced retail ground along the Great Lakes so they need to maximize every square inch of land and zoning and building they got and that equation does not leave room for aesthetics. This isn’t about jobs or medical research, it is about land value.

Finally, let’s let the Trib trip over its own logic in an economical three sentences near the end of the editorial.

“The old Prentice building, though, is not much more than a minor architectural gem. It doesn’t have city landmark protection. Marina City doesn’t have landmark status either, although it deserves it and (Alderman) Reilly is moving on that.”

Yow. Talk about givin’ poor old Socrates whiplash. It is a “minor” landmark (because of its age? A paragraph ago it was old???) without landmark status. Oh, so it doesn’t have status so it must not be worthy. But neither does Marina City (also by Goldberg), but it deserves it. I’m confused. If NOT having the status means it isn’t a landmark, but the alderman can “move” to landmark Marina City, why can’t he “move” on Prentice?

Alderman Reilly negotiated a 60-day delay, which is nothing if you don’t have a new building ready to go. But it does push the potential demolition closer to the opening of a major retrospective on the architecture of Bertrand Goldberg at the Art Institute of Chicago. Then we should get a more accurate idea of how “minor” this landmark is.

APRIL 22 UPDATE: Landmarks Illinois’ re-use plan actually develops three different scenarios for the building – including RESEARCH FACILITY for 800 researchers. Not too shabby. You can see the 16-page re-use study here. The amazing flexibility of Goldberg’s open floor plan (caused by those innovative AND BEAUTIFUL cantilevers) also makes the building easily adaptable to office or medical housing uses – there are no interior columns to worry about. Northwestern’s “lack of flexibility” argument is simply code for “maximize zoning envelope,” which would give something back to the city if the developer paid any real estate taxes. But they don’t. So, if and WHEN they at long last build that skyscraper, we get all of the congestion and shadows WITHOUT any economic benefit to the city – beyond the increment between 800 research jobs and however many more they can squeeze into their unplanned, undesigned and unfunded zoning envelope.

Sign the petition HERE.

JUNE 15 UPDATE: Prentice is named one of the 11 Most Endangered Sites in the U.S. by the National Trust for Historic Preservation! I made the announcement at the Save Prentice Rally today!

We made the announcement in front of a full vacant block. Next to another vacant lot half-a-block large. Would you like Northwestern to create a THIRD vacant block in Streeterville?

Prentice Women’s Hospital, Chicago

September 30, 2010


The next great new building in Chicago is Perkins and Will’s new hospital building for the Rush-Prebyterian St. Luke’s Hospital complex on the Near West Side. The new building features a multi-lobed design rising above a square base, looming over the Eisenhower Expressway and expressing with its insistent curving form a humanism central to the successful medical relationship. It is new and exciting.

And it is very similar to a 35-year old building, now threatened, by the architect who first brought this undulating form to the world of medicine when he crafted a maternity hospital that seems, in retrospect, like the first acknowledgement of the feminine in hospital architecture. In fact the new building touts the virtue of its plan in the same terms Goldberg used for his building in 1975:

“The tower’s butterfly-like shape allows for clear sight lines to every room from one of the nurse’s stations on each floor, allowing caregivers to see and respond to patient needs more quickly.”

Demolishers love to tell you how older buildings are functionally obsolete. I love to tell them I told you so. The Garrick Theatre was demolished in 1961 for a parking garage. The parking garage was demolished 35 years later for a theater. What goes around comes around and obsolescence rarely lasts a long time.

A major new effort to save Goldberg’s Prentice Hospital has been mounted by our friends at Landmarks Illinois and Preservation Chicago, and promoted by no less than Tribune architecture critic Blair Kamin, who linked to this Facebook advocacy page.


This is a fantastic building. Unfortunately we live in a world where hospitals and universities present the greatest threats to our landmarks. Because they need to do the latest and greatest thing in their new buildings.

Even when the latest and greatest thing is 35 years old.

NOVEMBER UPDATE: The National Trust Midwest Office and Landmarks Illinois (I am on both boards) are working hard on to save “the cloverleaf” Prentice. I would also note that my first Prentice photo above has gone all over the interwebs – Blair Kamin credited it a few weeks back on his blog, and then Metropolis POV ran it again today sans credit.

DECEMBER UPDATE: I left the following description – from colleague Anthea Hartig – on the Save Prentice Facebook page:

“The forms at Prentice are in the same instant structural and sculptural. This is truly the unity of art and function, the continuing discourse of artistic and engineering expressions.”

And the question: Can you think of another building that achieves this as well as Prentice?

The responses were: Mies’ Crown Hall, Pei’s National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Saarinen’s TWA flight center, The Monadnock Building, and Ronchamp. Here was my response:

These are great examples of the architecture-engineering discourse, although I think Saarinen’s comes closest to Goldberg in seeking an aesthetic structural efficiency, and TWA has a lot of formalism in there. I think Pei and Corbu are even more formalist (nothing efficient – but everything beautiful – about Ronchamp). The Monadnock is perhaps the first iteration in the discourse, more elegant than efficient, while Crown Hall gains and suffers from Mies’ perfectionism and bravado: Prentice is a well-turned ankle while Crown Hall is a bulging bicep.

See the Facebook page and the new video here.

APRIL 2011 UPDATE:

Last week Northwestern Hospital announced they will demolish the building after the tenant moves out in September. They have no plans for the site – it is pure Neanderthal land banking. Odds are it will sit vacant a long time.

Alderman Reilly has asked Northwestern to hold off on applying for the demolition permit until the Landmarks Illinois Re-Use study comes out in a few weeks, which they are doing because – why not? They are using the building until September, and since it is just a dumb land bank, it doesn’t exactly matter when they demolish, because they won’t be rebuilding for a long time.

SIGN THE PETITION AGAINST YEARS OF VACANT LOT HERE

JUNE 15 UPDATE: Prentice is named one of the 11 Most Endangered Sites in the U.S. by the National Trust for Historic Preservation! I made the announcement at the Save Prentice Rally today!

We made the announcement in front of a full vacant block. Next to another vacant lot half-a-block large. Would you like Northwestern to create a THIRD vacant block in Streeterville?

2012 UPDATES: See my July 2012 blog updated through late August

End of the year roundup

December 27, 2008

from deep in the thickness of the holidays, a time when we celebrate traditions that seem to be really old but really aren’t, some reflections on the current state of preservation in Chicago and elsewhere….

Al Capone’s house – there was a lengthy article on the Al Capone house, a modest c. 1915 red brick flat building in Park Manor on the South Side. When this was proposed for the National Register back in 1989, I remember all hell broke loose thanks to a collection of Italian-American organizations objecting to giving the mobster any honor. Of course, landmark designation is not “honoring,” otherwise we wouldn’t landmark things like the Vesey Street staircase or Manzanar, but the media sweatfest was enough to torpedo the designation. Now, the owner of the house since 1963 is selling it, so the Capone history has come back in the form of a big article in the paper and a $50,000 boost on the sales price. People are always in favor of preservation when it pays off – the trick is seeing the payoff when it is still in the distance.

Barack Obama got elected, so we may get the 2016 Olympics, which means the Olmsted landscape in Washington Park will be affected. Keep an eye on this one.

Institutions – especially schools, hospitals and churches – are sometimes more likely to cause demolition of valuable historic resources than private developers. A classic example is the move of Children’s Memorial Hospital from Lincoln Park to Streeterville. The move not only threatens the buildings they are leaving – serviceable and urbane but not spectacular – but also the neighborhood they are moving to. Turns out Ronald McDonald House has to move with them, putting a landmark up for sale in Lincoln Park and potentially leading to the demolition of two buildings on the near north side. First, they are planning on building a new Ronald McDonald House by demolishing a nice 1887 warehouse – again serviceable and urbane but not spectacular. (See September 4 2008 blog) Second, they are NOT re-using Prentice Women’s Hospital, one of Bertrand Goldberg’s great buildings. This would have been a natural. I guess that would require a contemporary high-definition widescreen preservation vision. Too much to ask?
ph1
Prentice is on the current Chicagoland Watch List of Landmarks Illinois (link on the right). In fact, if you look at the dozen buildings on the list, at least half are threatened by universities and/or hospitals.
Oh, and let’s not forget religious institutions, what with the Archdiocese trying again to demolish Henry Schlacks’ St. Boniface Church at Noble and Chestnut. I wouldn’t be surprised if that move torches real estate values for four blocks in every direction.
On the plus side, we have seen the rehab of the Wabash Avenue buildings in the former Carson Pirie Scott complex. All of the attention is on the rediscovered Louis Sullivan facades on the Haskell and Barker Buildings but I have also been entranced by the restored roofline of the Atwater Building.
carsons-wabash-rest08s
Now, a brief celebration of the supercool landmarks I saw in 2008, in chronological order:
adalaj-stp2s
millowners-faces
iim-05s
ford-interiro-bs
fh-angle-aways
4mile-inn-log-bar
hamill-hs67-79
hdp-vw2s
mqoh-bests
mqoh-int4s
sumpal-boat-best
bldg-1-trench-sidevw
bldg1-detail-vw2
han-tomb-xianxiao-yan-ta-eave
fengdu-pal-heav-dougong
3-gorge-lock-abvjpg
parthenon-back-pediment
hermitage-frt-obliq
dscf7460
bei-inner-wall
ctyd-1-54
shuanglin-buddha-int8
shuanglin-sakya2
shuanglin-sakya-sculp2b
hc-fronts
dscf8537
entrance-monks-mounds
dscf8762
dscf8816
atheneum2s
roofless-ch7s
community-no2-grps
main-east-vws
bam-main-ent
ctk-front-good
ctk-above-angle
oru-main
frischette-vw
play-tower-vw
price-up-balcs
price-vw-bott
conner-hs-dewey4
cult-ctr-restoredomes
that’s a good year. At least three World Heritage sites visited, plus I don’t know how many National Historic Landmarks…

The Expense of Preservation

February 9, 2006

Preservation is often characterized as expensive. Why? Because it is a good excuse, even for the richest.

One of the preservation tragedies we have been awaiting these last few years is the demolition of Bertrand Goldeberg’s Prentice Women’s Hospital in Chicago, a mighty and evocative design from the 1960s, the last era of optimism. A Quatrefoil in plan, it took the stem-and-petals constructional idiom of Goldberg’s signature Marina City and evolved a powerful flower of a building, four cylindrical lobes of beautiful 60s concrete studded with rounded windows – for a guy Goldberg was pretty good at channelling the lost feminine tradition in Modernism and he was certainly an intellectual leader in recapturing that tradition from the Miesian hegemony.

The building will be demolished by Northwestern Memorial Hospital for all of the usual excuses: too old and inefficient, too much maintenance (as opposed to new buildings that don’t require maintenance???) and of course too expensive. We all know preservation is too expensive – it is drilled into our heads through repetition (as opposed to reason) just like we know that we all need to replace our windows. The “too expensive” mantra is then followed by a false appeal to the angels of preservation “if someone had enough money…”.

Okay, here is the lead from a Tribune article by Bruce Jappsen in today’s business section:
“Long the envy of area hospitals, Northwestern Memorial Hospital’s cash position recently hit $1 billion for the first time…”

That’s not equity or assets – that’s cash, bro.

They can pay all of their bills (health care bills!) for the next year and a half NO MATTER WHAT. I can’t say that – can you?

Too bad there isn’t someone with money who could preserve this building.

Oh you can go through the footnotes – they have $1 billion in capital expenditures coming up the next five years (it ain’t cheap to tear down landmarks and it costs even more to build dreck in their place) and Medicare will soon vanish and so on and so forth and don’t stop talking or someone will call you on it

When the wealthy and powerful whinge they do it with such…humanity. It’s almost convincing.