Preservationists rally for Prentice,
Architecture experts like to say Bertrand Goldberg’s odd, ambitious design for the old Prentice Women’s Hospital in Chicago resembles an cloverleaf for its graceful, rounded floors, and they tout its gravity-defying lack of support columns thanks to a cantilevered design. But Northwestern University attracted some attention when it announced that it would leave the 1975 building to the wrecking ball to make way for a new medical research facility. A local neighborhood newspaper, the Skyline, quoted university facilities director Ron Nayler saying in a May 2011 public meeting that the building’s low ceilings, old wiring and inadequate “vibration criteria” made it unfit to keep around.
“When we looked at it in detail, we found irresolvable problems,” Nayler was quoted as saying.
Since then, a wave of local and national preservation groups have issued calls to save the building, including the National Trust for Historic Preservation, which last month enlisted architectural luminaries Frank Gehry, Jeanne Gang and 60 others in asking the city to save Chicago-native Goldberg’s building.
“A building this significant—this unique in the world—should be preserved,” says the July 2012 letter from the trust to city officials.
An Aug. 14 article on Vanity Fair’s website by Pulitzer Prize-winning architectural critic Paul Goldberger compares the idea of razing the hospital to the 1972 destruction of the Chicago Stock Exchange building: “Chicago seems on the verge of letting another important building go, and it’s a decision that, like the Stock Exchange, will probably be deeply regretted once the wrecking ball has done its deed.”
The university has responded to calls for the old Prentice to be saved by asking residents to sign petitions opposing landmark status for the building by including an online comment form and the phone number for the Commission on Chicago Landmarks on its website.
The same day the Vanity Fair article appeared, the university published an announcement online touting the benefits of the project. Northwestern says a new research center would attract $150 million in medical research spending, create 2,000 full-time jobs and generate $390 million in economic activity in the city.
“Reuse of old Prentice cannot meet the strategic needs of Northwest- ern University, and the building needs to be demolished to make way for construction of a state of the art medical research facility,” according to a statement.
At deadline, preservationists were still waiting to hear if Prentice is on the Sept. 6 agenda of the Commission on Chicago Landmarks, a panel that could protect it from demolition.
Goldberg’s 1975 Prentice hospital, built in a modernist style called brutalist, is the focus of a preservation battle in Chicago.