The preservation battle continues over the fate of Bertrand Goldberg’s 1970’s Prentice Woman’s Hospital. As we reported in July, an ever-growing community of prominent architects – such as Frank Gehry, Jeanne Gang, Tod Williams and Billie Tsien – have joined preservationists in the fight to save the late modernist structure that is at risk of being replaced by a new biomedical research facility for Northwestern University.
The seven-story concrete cloverleaf, cantilevered 45 feet from the supporting core and floating atop a glass and steel box, is an engineering feat ahead of it’s time as well as an important icon within the Chicago skyline. As architecture critic Michael Kimmelman argues, “Great late-Modernist buildings, innovative and ruggedly beautiful, deserve respect and, increasingly, careful custody. Prentice is a good example.” However, it is not suited for 21st-century research labs and many Chicagoans hate it. Currently, Northwestern University is leading the debate by arguing that a new building would “bring to the city millions of investment dollars, create jobs and save lives”.
Could there be a compromise? Solutions are rarely black-and-white. Kimmelman has consulted Chicago architect Jeanne Gang to envision a proposal that would satisfy both opposing sides. Continue reading to learn more.
Rather than preserving the structure as is or tearing it down, Jeanne Gang suggests the University constructs a 31-story research tower atop the cloverleaf. This “practicable and maybe even economical” proposal, as described by structural engineer Ron Klemencic of Magnusson Klemencic Associates, would provide almost 600,000 square feet of 21st-century lab space and transform Goldberg’s building into 250,000 additional square feet of medical offices, classrooms, restaurants, etc. Additionally, skywalks would connect the neighboring buildings.
The university specified the need for 300,000 to 500,000 square feet of research labs on open floors with high ceilings that could connect to the Robert H. Lurie Medical Research Center next door. This is all achieved in Gang’s plan.
As Kimmelman states, “The university says it wants to be a good neighbor. Diversifying the neighborhood while incorporating Goldberg’s building into some new structure would allow the university to save lives, develop a healthier urban plan and sustain a special work of local culture, which is also what great universities do.”
He continues, “Certain buildings, even neighborhoods, can’t be altered without being ruined. But all buildings exist in the real world, as do we.”