The fate of the uniquely designed old Prentice Women’s Hospital in Chicago hangs in the balance. As the debate swirls around whether to demolish this familiar sight which has been a part of the Streeterville area in Chicago since 1975, there is no denying that the hospital was ahead of its time in design.
The architect of the hospital, Bertrand Goldberg, used computer software for the design, something that was rare in architecture at that time. With precise detailing, Goldberg brought to life a structure that stood out when placed next to more traditionally designed buildings. The hospital has a concrete, four-petal-shaped exterior, on top of a rectangular base that is cantilevered, removing the need for support columns, and an interior that gives thought to the needs of patients and staff with a ward arrangement that allowed patients to have a full view of the nurses’ station from their beds to ease stress and various other design considerations.
The architectural risks Goldberg took were possibly breathtaking for their time and to this day the structure is a reminder of the depths that innovation and creativity can plumb, and it certainly ranks as an example of the many styles of architecture.
But there’s a problem. Time marches on and a path must be made for the future. The owner, Northwestern University, would like to knock the building down and build a new research center on the site allowing new discoveries in biomedical exploration to be made. On the other hand, if it is acknowledged that the design of the hospital is distinctive enough to be part of architectural tours, possibly celebrated as a piece of art, praised and fought for by top architects, then should the building not be saved?
Those who look to preserve it say that Northwestern University has other options. Northwestern counters that this is the only ideal space for its proposed building.
In the face of new hospitals that are being built, the old Prentice Women’s Hospital may not be seen as the belle of the ball with its heavy, solid façade compared to the lighter, more airy appearance of today’s hospitals with their expanse of glass.
As an article in the Chicago Tribune points out, the empty hospital sits on Northwestern University’s land and therefore preservationists should have no say in the building’s future. But preserving something that enriches culture and educates for maybe decades or centuries to come is not always an easy battle. An article with the opposing views has also been run listing reasons why the building should be considered a landmark.
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