Posts Tagged ‘Walter Gropius’

What’s left of Michael Reese Hospital

December 11, 2010

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.


Chicago October 2009

October 8, 2009

1. Save Gropius Buildings at Michael Reese

Blair Kamin in today’s Tribune makes the case for saving the Gropius buildings at the former Michael Reese Hospital. He also takes to task the city’s spokesperson for an indefensible “we are proceeding” position. This is no longer an overnight development for the Olympics and it is no longer a job for the knuckle-dragging mouth-breathing sector of the development community. It is not that hard to reuse some or all of these buildings, and now that we needn’t follow the dictates of the Olympic village, we can use variety in height and scale (as Gropius did) to make the south lakefront more urbanistically interesting than it would have been under the previous plan.
MRH kaplan anglS
MRH gropius 31st bS

2. 839 Park Avenue, River Forest. I blogged about this one recently. Hometown architect. Significant student of Frank Lloyd Wright. A design that sits in the landscape in a way that CANNOT be achieved in less than a generation. What new building will look half as good as this?
park drumm709s
This has been covered in the local press, but NO ONE mentions the Illinois Property Tax Freeze as an option, which it clearly is – as noted by Landmarks Illinois and the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency.

My conclusion? The new owners are head over heels in love with property taxes!

They have chosen to put this million-dollar home in a landfill and GIVE us twice as much in property taxes than they would have if they simply built a rear addition to double the size of the house and improve its floorplan. I guess they are saving everyone else in River Forest a lot of money.

Maybe not – depending on how the new building looks, it could depress local values. Could that be the strategy? Build an ugly house and thereby reduce values and thus property taxes? Hmm. We will have to see.

3. Aqua – Sitting (or standing) in the new modern wing at AIC you are surrounded by Piano and confronted by Gehry. But you are also astounded by the female winner of this “contest” – Jeanne Gang and her Aqua, quite easily the most interesting, urbane and aesthetically pleasing highrise in twenty years. Everyone is noticing its insistent elegance between its more brusque and brash neighbors.
mod wing bridgeo909s
mill pk aqua
mill pk aqua cls

4. The Society of Architectural Historians conference is here in Chicago in April. I am Local Chair and you should all come – great tours and the latest and greatest thoughts from those who think about buildings across all places and all times.


NOBEL PEACE PRIZE TO PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA – Only the second Chicagoan to win this award – the first being Jane Addams in 1931. The New York Times headline calls it a political liability at home. Huh? John Bolton, the cantankerous anti-furriner that was made ambassador to the UN (that’s IRONY with ALL of the letters capitalized) said: “It’s high-minded Europeans talking down to hayseed Americans, saying this is the way you ought to be.” That’s probably true, but Mr. Bolton shouldn’t worry. If history is a guide, low-mindedness will certainly make a comeback before too long. Or did they blow it all on town hall drive-by shoutings?

Dumb Down

April 16, 2009

Well, the Public Building Commission is taking bids (RFQ actually) to demolish ALL of the Michael Reese campus for the Olympic Village, now that the IOC committee has been shown a lovely vision of loveliness that could only come from renderings and never from reality. This means not only the recently documented eight buildings by Walter Gropius (the only ones in Illinois) but also the Schmidt, Garden and Martin building that was shown as being preserved in the plans for the village. This is dumb, and both Landmarks Illinois and Preservation Chicago have said so.
I would like to have the Olympics in Chicago. I am proud of Chicago because it has always innovated in architecture and planning. Why stop now?
It’s not that you have to save everything. It is NEVER that. It’s that you have to at least look at the more sustainable, more energy-savvy option of saving things. You have to do your homework. Can these buildings be rehabilitated as the Olympic Village? Do they have the lovely lake views shown to the IOC? Maybe they do, maybe they don’t. Maybe they can be rehabilitated efficiently, maybe not. WE DON’T KNOW. And with this call for demolition, WE WILL NEVER KNOW.
Why – at the moment when you are about to stride onto the world stage as a player – would you pull a punk move like this? Jim Peters, President of Landmarks Illinois, called the demolition without reuse study “premature” and “foolhardy”. I think it also hurts the bid. The rest of the world knows about this architecture.

To learn more about the Gropius buildings, see this Monday’s presentation by Grahm Balkany at 5:30 PM at the Haefele showroom, 154 W. Hubbard in Chicago – registration required – check for updates.

TUESDAY UPDATE: Now the city is saying again they will save the Schmidt Garden building (first one pictured). They are saying the others are not feasible to save. Could be. Could not be. Will they prove it?

WEDNESDAY UPDATE: See Blair Kamin in the Chicago Tribune on this issue today. He makes the point about the Private Pavilion (second image above) which looks like it could easily be re-used for exactly the purposes needed. Wouldn’t it be nice to know whether or not it is?

One of the links talks about the LEED rating plans for the new Olympic Village. Will that offset the amount of debris and dust and waste created by demolishing a dozen multistory buildings? Or we will just skip that analysis as well?

THURSDAY UPDATE: Don’t miss Lynn Becker’s excellent article on this in the current Chicago Reader.