August 21, 2012
Mayor Rahm Emanuel
City of Chicago
121 North LaSalle Street
Chicago City Hall – 4th Floor
Chicago, IL 60602
Re: Old Prentice Women’s Hospital
Dear Mayor Emanuel:
I have been a practicing architect in Chicago for more than 50 years. I was born and raised in Chicago and studied architecture at the Illinois Institute of Technology under the tutelage of Mies Van Der Rohe. I spent the first 27 years of practice at Skidmore Owings and Merrill and was a senior partner. For the past 24 years, I have had my own practice and designed several major buildings in Chicago such as the United Airlines Headquarters at 77 West Wacker Drive, the ABM AMRO Operations Facility on West Madison Street, the Citadel Center on Adams and Dearborn, the Gerald Hines Building at 1 South Dearborn and many other commercial, residential and public sector buildings in Chicago as well as nationally and internationally.
The issue of landmark status for the old Prentice Women’s Hospital is very difficult to address.
Bertrand Goldberg was certainly a significant architect in the modernist movement and his contribution is evident in his projects. His legacy in design and engineering of unique structures, forms and materials were expressive of the brutalist fashion of modernism. This is expressed very successfully in the hospital’s shape, structure and transparency.
In my humble opinion, this philosophy falls short in the old Prentice Women’s Hospital. I have read that Mr. Goldberg sought to bring humanism into hospital architecture. Unfortunately, the poetic shape was a step toward this humanistic attempt, but the engineering concrete cylinders allowed for minimal openings in its exterior, which impacted directly on the functionality of the humanistic approach. This also limited the opportunity greatly for any adaptive reuse of the facility.
Certainly the base of the building hampers the awareness of the unique expression of the tower portion, as you can tell by the myriad number of photographs of the tower only, and it is not worthy of landmark consideration.
The tower portion of the building is acknowledged as a unique engineering accomplishment with its cantilevered silo structure, but the lack of transparency imposed by the structure results in a fairly massive expression, which is reinforced by the use of the concrete silo walls for the structure. Its expression is an example of the brutalist movement of the 1960’s and 70’s.
Unfortunately, today’s issues are energy efficiency, light and air, and sustainability, which limit the opportunity for adaptive reuse of the facility.
In my opinion, and in spite of all the clamor from prominent professionals, the community is better served by a state-of-the-art medical research facility. The opportunity to make a significant contribution to the built environment is here with your support.
James R. DeStefano FAIA, FALA, RIBA