The curious case of Goldberg's cloverleaf building

The curious case of Goldberg's cloverleaf building

I love Bertrand Goldberg buildings in the same way I love sniffing gasoline or listening to Salem in the dark after a long night of drinking. For those moments when you want to indulge your dark side, Goldberg buildings are the perfect muse. His concrete and uniquly cylindrical buildings are so devoid of warmth that it's hard to imagine that human life willfully exists within its chambers.

The Prentice Women's Hospital (see image above) has the instantly recognizable Goldberg look, much like the iconic "corn cobs" buildings of Marina City, the foreclosure pit known as River City, and the government subsidized Hilliard Homes - all Goldberg structures. While he acknowledged that the Prentice Women's Hospital uniquely cloverleaf design would eventually become outdated, Goldberg emphasized that it was designed in a manner that made it easily adaptable for reuse.

38 years later, Northwestern University - which owns the building - begs to differ. It has been making a strong push to demolish Prentice, which has been vacant for a year, and build a cancer research center in its place. But over the past few years, Northwestern has found a formidable foe in architectural preservationists, including non-profit groups like Preservation Chicago and the National Trust for Historic Preservation. In an open letter to Mayor Rahm Emanuel, a collective of 60 architects - unified by an effort called "Save Prentice" - stated that "the historic Prentice exceeds the criteria for Chicago landmark designation, that it is truly singular in construction and layout, and that it changed the course of modern hospital design."

"[The] unique cloverleaf design at Prentice helped redefine patient- and family-centered care. It exemplified the belief that patients should be grouped in communities around a nursing center that improved proximity and sightlines between nurses and patients."

So while the exterior appears cold and kitchy, the interior is intended to breed a warm, communal environment (it actually inspired the design of Rush Hospital). There's been a push to landmark Prentice, which would make it untouchable for the time being. But per the Chicago Reader: "Last year, the commission was set to hold a hearing on landmarking Prentice. But the matter was tabled to give Northwestern and the preservationists time to work out some sort of compromise. Obviously, that hasn't happened."

There are, of course, two sides to this story. Here's Northwestern's retort, per Chicago Reader:

"The preservationists say the university should put its research lab in the Prentice building. But [Northwestern] says they can't because Prentice is too small for what they want to build. So the preservationists say the university should readapt Prentice for something else–dorms, a hotel, offices—and build the research lab somewhere else. Like the huge vacant lot across the street, which once housed a VA hospital. But ... Cubbage says they can't build on the lot across the street because they don't own it—Northwestern Memorial Hospital does. Cubbage says the hospital is "a separate entity" with its own board of directors, even though it's a teaching hospital affiliated with Northwestern's medical school. "You can't build on land you don't own," Cubbage says.

And let's not forget - Northwestern is hardly building a vanity project, like a student center.

"I know I sound like a PR guy—but we're trying to save lives with this research facility. This is not a shopping mall we want to build," Cubbage told the Reader.

But the opposition argues that this debate is not about whether a cancer research center should exist, but simply where it should exist.

The Reader refers to architectural preservationists as a "relatively cloutless crew." Nevertheless, they've managed to give Mayor Emanuel, who I'm guessing wants this project to move forward, cause for concern.

From The Reader: "If he landmarks the building he'll piss off Northwestern, one of the wealthiest and most powerful institutions in the country. A number of university trustees and other graduates are also generous contributors to his campaign—not that it would have anything to do with the mayor's decision. But if Emanuel gives Northwestern its demolition permit—and let's face it, the permit doesn't get issued without the mayor's approval—he will be forever regarded by preservationists and architects (and maybe even his beloved New York Times) as the pinhead who destroyed one of Chicago's great buildings. What's an all-powerful mayor to do?" Apparently, stall for time. The mayor hasn't made any public comments on the matter, and his press aides tell reporters he's studying it."

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