Northwestern Poised to Demolish Architectural Masterpiece

Tomorrow it seems all but certain that Northwestern University will receive a demolition permit for old Prentice Women's Hospital, designed by modern architect Bertrand Goldberg, even as the Art Institute of Chicago plans to celebrate that architect's work in a exhibition slated for early 2012.

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The threat to the old Prentice Hospital has been closely followed by Pulitzer Prize-winning architecture critic Blair Kamin on the Chicago Tribune and his blog, Cityscapes. Architecture critic Lynn Becker has also been actively lobbying and writing about the value of Prentice on his blog Architecture Chicago PLUS.  These critics have been leading the charge and writing consistently about the battle to save Prentice. 

Kamin deserves special credit as his firm position in favor of saving Prentice is at odds with the editorial board at the Tribune.  The Trib board calls the hospital, "not much more than a minor architectural gem," Kamin says, "the 36-year-old high-rise is unquestionably a major work in Goldberg's career."

Goldberg's Prentice building should be saved.  I remember first finding it for myself in Streeterville. At the time I didn't know who the architect was for sure, but I did know that this was a building that had significance, that broke with the dominant trends and was a breath of fresh air in the bland and banal boxes that make up the high-rises in the area.  If demolished Streeterville will lose a big part of what makes the neighborhood unique.

And Chicago will lose another significant building, like the many others it has destroyed too hastily with too little vision for the future.  In doing this we not only lose architectural history but potential tourism as well, Chicago's architecture is a significant draw for tourists. Bank of America even runs radio ads that boast of Chicago's architecture.  The irony of demolishing Prentice is especially strong considering the Art Institute of Chicago will open the aforementioned major exhibition of Goldberg's work in early 2012, "Bertrand Goldberg: Architecture of Invention." By 2012 the building will probably either be rubble or a landmark.

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I hope it will be a landmark, though as Kamin points out last week the Commission on Chicago Landmarks has been shamefully silent, though they put the building on their agenda for this Thursday's meeting. That makes joining those who support Prentice's preservation all the more valuable.

I have signed the petition to save Goldberg's old Prentice Women's Hospital and hope that you will join me in advocating the survival of this building.

You can find more information about the Save Prentice coalition here.   

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