Leading Architects from Chicago and Around the World Call on City to Preserve Historic Prentice Hospital

Frank Gehry, Jeanne Gang among acclaimed architects penning letter to Chicago officials urging city to save Bertrand Goldberg’s innovative work

Representing a broad swath of global architectural opinion, more than 60 prominent architects urged Mayor Rahm Emanuel on Wednesday to save Bertrand Goldberg’s Prentice Women’s Hospital and help the building obtain landmark status.

The architects include Frank Gehry – winner of the Pritzker Prize and designer of the band shell in Chicago’s Millennium Park – and Jeanne Gang, an acclaimed Chicago architect and winner of a 2011 MacArthur Fellowship. They come from the diverse worlds of commercial and restoration architecture as well as academic institutions such as Shanghai’s Tongji University and the Harvard Graduate School of Design.

In a letter to Mayor Emanuel and other city officials, the architects wrote that, “A building this significant – this unique in the world – should be preserved and reused.”

“Chicago’s global reputation as a nurturer of bold and innovative architecture will wither if the city cannot preserve its most important achievements,” the letter stated.

Prentice Women’s Hospital was built in 1975 at 333 E. Superior Street to house Northwestern Memorial Hospital’s obstetrical and gynecological facilities as well as the Stone Institute for Psychiatry. Chicago-born Goldberg, one of the city’s most important native architects designed the structure about a decade after his most famous work, the “corncob” towers of Marina City. Goldberg's architectural contributions have been widely noted internationally as well as recently in a comprehensive retrospective at the Art Institute of Chicago.  

Today, Northwestern University owns the Prentice building and has made clear it intends to tear it down. Despite a reuse study conducted by Landmarks Illinois, the university has declined to consider options for redevelopment, saying that it needs a differently configured building for research. Northwestern has not revealed its timeline for constructing the new building nor what the dimensions and impact on the neighborhood will be.

In their letter to the mayor, the architects cite a recently completed landmark recommendation report compiled by the Washington, D.C.-based National Trust for Historic Preservation. “The report confirms what we already believed: that the historic Prentice exceeds the criteria for Chicago landmark designation,” the letter states.

As the report notes, “Prentice Women’s Hospital is a significant and highly intact illustration of the aesthetic creativity, technological experimentation, and cultural optimism that made Chicago a world center for late modernist architecture in the 1960s and 1970s. Prentice is an exceptionally valuable resource for the scholarly understanding and public appreciation of this influential period in the City’s history.”

“Its clover-shaped tower is a poured concrete cantilevered shell that is extremely rare and possibly unique in the history of structural engineering,” the report notes.

The architects joining in the call to save Prentice hail from every major U.S. city. In particular, Chicago’s architecture community has spoken in broad consensus in favor of preserving Goldberg’s work. Prominent Chicago architects joining in sending the letter include Joe Antunovich, Dirk Lohan, John Ronan, Mark Sexton, and John Vinci, as well as the heads of the architecture schools at the University of Illinois–Chicago and the Illinois Institute of Technology. In addition, the partners and directors of Skidmore Owings & Merrill LLP (SOM)’s Chicago office unanimously support saving the building.

"This outpouring of support for Prentice Hospital is truly inspirational," said Stephanie Meeks, president of the National Trust for Historic Preservation. "The list of architects signing this letter represents many leaders in the field of architecture, and testifies to the depth of national and international respect for the work of Bertrand Goldberg.”

  

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 About the Save Prentice Coalition

Save Prentice is a coalition of organizations that includes AIA Chicago, DoCoMoMo, Landmarks Illinois, The National Trust for Historic Preservation, and Preservation Chicago. Our mission is the preservation and reuse of the iconic – and now threatened – Prentice Women’s Hospital designed by noted Chicago architect Bertrand Goldberg in 1974.

 

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The National Trust for Historic Preservation, a privately funded nonprofit organization, works to save America’s historic places.
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