Prentice Women’s Hospital

2011/05/31

Recently, I encountered an article in the Chicago Sun-Times regarding the Prentice Women’s Hospital at Northwestern Memorial Hospital; having recently photographed the building, I was intrigued by the article, particularly the bit about NMH wanting to raze it and build something new in its place. As someone who appreciates architectural history (hey, I’ve got a minor in the subject from the University of Virginia), hearing about these plans came as a bit of a shock. Thankfully, it appears that the Commission on Chicago Landmarks has decided to consider designating the building a Chicago Landmark; as any of y’all who’ve worked on buildings that are either Landmarks or in a Landmarks District can attest, if the building does, indeed, receive such status, it will be practically impossible for Northwestern to demolish the building. At best, they’ll be able to repurpose the building for some other use – or sell it to someone who is willing to make such a conversion…or just let it sit empty and unused (there are a number of Chicago Landmarks that are now currently awaiting restoration, and thus, sit empty, mostly because no one has the funds to perform the needed repairs).

Anyways, I had gone out today with the intention of shooting a series of photos, then writing about how horrible it would be if Northwestern were to demolish the building, but since it has now earned a bit of a reprieve, I’m less concerned with arguing its merits for the moment – though I’ll get to that in a moment. For now, here are some shots of the building for your enjoyment.

D80 CHI NMH-PrenticeHospital01 2011_05-31B

D80 CHI NMH-PrenticeHospital02 2011_05-31B

D80 CHI NMH-PrenticeHospital03 2011_05-31B

D80 CHI NMH-PrenticeHospital04 2011_05-31B

D80 CHI NMH-PrenticeHospital05 2011_05-31B

Photo Information:

Location: Chicago, Illinois; Streeterville Neighborhood
Camera: Nikon D80
Lens: Nikon Nikkor 60mm f/2.8 Micro (Photo 1); 35mm f/1.8 DX (Photo 2, 3, & 4); 80-200mm f/4.5-5.6 (Photo 5)

The building was completed in 1975 and designed by Bertrand Goldberg, a reasonably well-known Chicago architect, though he is most famous for another project here in town – Marina City, which is a few blocks southwest of this hospital building. As you can easily see from the various photos, the most distinctive feature of the building is the cloverleaf “drum” that sits atop the rather nondescript five-story box podium below. Apparently, this juxtaposition of forms was the result of the division of essential functions within the building; the lower level “box” contained a set of “generic” spaces (open floor plans, much like modern office buildings) that could be easily reconfigured based on the changing needs of the facilities, while the upper “drum” housed a series of bedrooms for the hospital’s patients, while each “leaf” of the cloverleaf-shaped plan had a central nurses’ station, for a total of four per floor. While it is difficult to determine the interior arrangement simply by looking at the exterior, based on the arrangement of the windows, it seems likely that each wing housed eight patient rooms (for a total of 32 per floor), with the remainder of the interior space reserved for the nurses’ station, circulation space, and various “service” spaces (duct chases, closets, etc.).

Of course, one of the reasons I like this building is its appearance, particularly the upper levels (the base is fairly uninspired – but sensible, given its function). Compared to practically every building around it, this one has quite a unique profile – just check out the first photo in the above series. Goldberg, of course, was known for his interest in curving forms, and most of his executed designs in Chicago contain fairly prominent curves. While I understand that Northwestern may find some difficulty in either renovating the building to accommodate the needs of a modern healthcare facility, or repurposing the building to accommodate some other function, it certainly would be a shame to lose such a unique building.

Of somewhat more esoteric concern is the sort of message it sends if the city government of Chicago was willing to let such a unique building be demolished without much of a fight – of course, given the announcement by the Landmarks Commission, this is obviously not going to happen now. I’m glad that the Commission decided to step in here; part of what makes Chicago great are the various preserved artifacts of the city’s history. And after all, what point is there in having a Landmarks Commission if said group makes little effort to preserve that which is unique?

Enjoy.

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