Architects to Chicago Mayor: Save Prentice!

Midwest
Thursday, July 26, 2012
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(Courtesy AIC)

Early scheme for Prentice Women’s Hospital. (Courtesy AIC)

More than 60 architects flocked to the side of Bertrand Goldberg’s embattled Prentice Women’s Hospital Wednesday, calling on Mayor Rahm Emanuel to ensure the concrete cloverleaf’s permanent place in Chicago’s skyline.

“The legacy of Bertrand Goldberg’s Prentice Women’s Hospital is unmistakable. It stands as a testament to the Chicago-led architectural innovation that sets this city apart,” reads the open letter, whose cosigners include Frank Gehry, Jeanne Gang and the partners of SOM. “Chicago’s global reputation as a nurturer of bold and innovative architecture will wither if the city cannot preserve its most important achievements.”

Northwestern University, Prentice’s owner, announced their intention to tear down the vacant hospital last year. But Alderman Brendan Reilly helped secure a stay of execution for the building, galvanizing a preservation movement that has earned the support of the Chicago AIA, Landmarks Illinois and AN‘s editorial page.

Prentice Women’s Hospital moved to a new facility down the street in 2007, opening up the distinct building to arguments of functionality in a high-density neighborhood. Coming from a major research university, Northwestern’s demolition plans suggest preservationists stand in the way of progress.

But a reuse study by Landmarks Illinois found rehabilitation as a lab, office or residential tower would take less time and cost less than new construction on the site. Preservation would also “provide visual relief,” they wrote, “for this portion of the Streeterville community, which is increasingly dominated by dense and boxlike high-rises.”

Indeed Prentice’s structurally unique cantilevered concrete shell is an architectural asset in the neighborhood. It is the only hospital Goldberg designed for his hometown, and its quatrefoil plan emerged from his belief that architecture should strengthen community  through human relationships. The worldwide list of architects calling for its preservation shows Prentice continues to bring the design community together, almost 40 years later.

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