New York Times architecture critic Michael Kimmelman and architect Jeanne Gang both waded into one of Chicago’s biggest preservation battles this week in an effort to save Prentice Women’s Hospital, a clover leaf-shaped hospital designed by Bertrand Goldberg. Northwestern University wants to demolish the unique building to build a new biomedical research facility, and university officials have said that the oddly-shaped structure would be too difficult to retrofit. So Kimmelman reached out to Gang to develop a new proposal that would involve building a modern research facility right on top of the existing building.
When it was built in 1975, Prentice Women’s Hospital featured some of the most innovative structural engineering of its time, and it pioneered new thinking about how maternity wards should be designed. As Chicago Tribune architecture critic Blair Kamin explained in a recent column, “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.”
The building was designed by Bertrand Goldberg, the famous Chicago architect who is best known for designing the honeycomb-shaped Marina Towers along the Chicago River. For the past several years, the building has been listed on Landmark Illinois’ and the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s lists of most endangered buildings. Prentice is one of the most unique buildings in downtown Chicago. “It’s a welcoming form in the city, as opposed to another big solid box,” Gang told the Times.
Jeanne Gang’s proposal to build a 680-foot high-rise on top of the existing building isn’t the first adaptive-reuse proposal developed in the name of preserving Prentice. In 2011, Landmarks Illinois released a study for the building that described three possibilities for reuse (as an office building, a residential building, or a research facility). But Gang’s proposal takes into account Northwestern’s need for a new, state-of-the-art facility, while preserving what’s already there and adapting it to a new life.
When contacted by Kimmelman, a Northwestern spokesman wouldn’t say whether the university would consider such a reuse option. The clock is ticking; earlier this week, Alderman Brendan Reilly said that he was leaning towards demolishing Prentice Hospital. But Mayor Rahm Emanuel still hasn’t weighed in on the controversial building. Gang’s proposal is one that could satisfy both preservationists and Northwestern, and it would make an iconic but dated building relevant again.
Via New York Times