A distinctive cloverleaf-shaped icon in Chicago, Prentice Women’s Hospital was designed by architect Bertrand Goldberg and opened to international acclaim in 1975. The hospital relocated in 2007, leaving the distinctive structure vacant. A strong coalition of preservation groups, architecture and design organizations, and internationally-recognized architects and engineers demonstrated several viable reuses for the groundbreaking Modernist treasure that made it the centerpiece of a cutting-edge Northwestern medical research facility. In spite of a unanimous vote of the Commission on Chicago Landmarks that Prentice met the criteria for a Chicago Landmark, the Commission ultimately sided with Northwestern University and cleared the way for demolition of one of Chicago’s most unique buildings.
Irreplaceable buildings, landscapes, and sites of the Modernist movement are among the most underappreciated and vulnerable aspects of America’s heritage. Day by day, neglect and demolition erode the physical fabric of the recent past – and our cities. By identifying Modernist icons such as Prentice Women’s Hospital as National Treasures, the National Trust will work to preserve the architectural and cultural heritage of the recent past before more landmarks are lost.
Ways To Help
Donate to our campaign to save Prentice Women’s Hospital.
Tell us why Prentice Women's Hospital matters to you.
Across the country icons of modern design are under threat. It’s too late for Prentice, but not too late for modernism.
Support the National Trust’s work to preserve America’s National Treasures today.
by Chris Morris, Project Manager
I received 2 rather vague but frantic posts from people in the Streeterville neighborhood earlier this week suggesting demolition was well underway at Prentice. They didn't provide any detail or photos, so I bolted over there yesterday afternoon to see what was up (or down, as the case may be). The demolition contractors had broken through the street level and were busily digging into the basement below the northwest corner of the base. The good news is that no additional scaffolding has been erected around the base or the tower...yet.
I'll do my best to track the activitiy at the site, so keep checking back here for more updates.
by Chris Morris, Project Manager
You may not know it, but July 17th marked a major milestone in Chicago architectural history. Yesterday would have been the 100th birthday of Chicago architect Bertrand Goldberg, architectural innovator and brainchild behind Prentice Women's Hospital. Born in 1913, Bertrand (or "Bud" as he was known to his friends and colleagues) studied at the Bauhaus and worked briefly with Mies van der Rohe before striking out on his own to create some of the most striking and well-known concrete forms to grace the Windy City: Marina City (aka "the Corncobs), Hillard Homes, Astor Tower, and River City. Goldberg passed away in 1997 but his legacy lives on in dozens of innovative projects of all shapes, sizes and types that pushed the boundaries of urban planning, engineering, technology and new construction materials. And for that I'd like to say, "Happy 100th Birthday, Bertrand! You genius made our cities cool and interesting and wonderous places. You are sorely missed."
The Chicago media also took note of Goldberg's centenary, as did Chicago White Sox right fielder Alex Rios, who tweeted "why would they want to take this building down when Chicago is know[n] for its great architecture." Good question, Alex...good question.
I'll do my best to track the activitiy at the site, so keep checking back here for more updates.
by Chris Morris, Project Manager
We've been hearing bits and pieces of information from Northwestern and others that demolition (in some fashion) is expected to start any day now. Scaffolding first showed up at the site at the end of May, along with a notice from Northwestern that demo of the connector to the Lurie Research building would occur on June 8. But June 8 came and went with no activity. And no more scaffolding. This weekend another notice to NU students was distributed, warning them to steer clear of Prentice because it "will be under heavy construction for the next 12 months." That, of course, prompted me to run over to Prentice yesterday to see what damage was being wrought. I was surprised to learn the answer was...not much. The tiny connector to Lurie has come down, but that's it. No new scaffolding. And nothing to suggest they are ready to start on the exterior anytime soon.
Speaking of surprises, we all were taken aback by the actions of a mystery supporter last week when a plane towing a pro-Prentice banner directed at NU President Morton Schapiro buzzed the Northwestern graduation ceremonies in Evanston! As you might expect, many people assumed we had staged the stunt. But it wasn't us. Nor was it any of our partners who were members of the Save Prentice Coalition. Apparently someone out there really wants to see Prentice saved and isn't shy about making his or her opinion known to an audience of thousands of Northwestern students, parents, and staff.
by Chris Morris, Project Manager
While some people may be familiar with the process of professionally documenting a building for posterity, I certainly wasn't! Fortunately I had an amazing team of talented photographers and videographers in Scrappers Film Group who held my hand and made sure we got high-quality images that were both beautiful and informative. For those of you who've never done photo or video documentation, or who would like to get some helpful hints on how to go about it, check out the latest Preservation Leadership Forum blog on the Prentice project. It has lots of helpful advice and some fantastic photos of Bertrand Goldberg's Prentice.
by Chris Morris, Project Manager
Just a quick update for all you Modernism and Bertrand Goldberg fans out there...
Some of you may have heard that demolition was set to start a few weeks ago. Mercifully, that was just a rumor. Some people saw scaffolding on the site and Northwestern sent a notice to the Streeterville residents telling them that demolition of the skybridge linking Prentice to the Lurie Research facility was scheduled for June 8. Everyone assumed that concrete was going to start flying in a matter of days. But when contacted by the local media, Northwestern's spokesman, Al Cubbage, said they were doing interior abatement and demolition right now now, but the exterior demo wasn't planned until the late summer or early fall. While that's good news for those of us who dearly love Goldberg's Prentice, it really makes you wonder why Northwestern claimed to be in such a hurry to get their hands on that demo permit. Hmmmmm...
Next week be sure to look for an eloquent and heartfelt guest blog on PreservationNation by a Chicago student who was so deeply moved by Prentice that she join us in the advocacy battle. And don't forget to share your own stories, photos, and memories with us. Keep checking back here for more updates and photos.
by Chris Morris, Project Manager
It’s been over 3 months since the National Trust and Landmarks Illinois decided to drop their lawsuit against the City of Chicago, as a direct result of the Commission on Chicago Landmarks inexplicably voting for a second time that they would not allow Prentice Hospital to be designated a local landmark, in spite of the fact that it met at least four of the landmark criteria. Since then Prentice's owner, Northwestern University, has applied for and received permits for asbestos abatement and demolition. We do not know the date demolition of Prentice is expected to begin. As of this week there was no scaffolding around Prentice to suggest demo is starting anytime soon. We are grateful for every day that this modernist icon continues to grace Chicago’s skyline.
Luckily I was able to get an incredibly talented team of photographers and videographers into the building in late March to do extensive documentation before the abatement work began to mar the interior. This was the first time anyone had been in the building for years and we were so fortunate that Northwestern offered to grant us access. The result was dozens of gorgeous digital and black and white photos of the building, which show not only that Prentice is in remarkably good condition, but also just how innovative and functional Goldberg’s design was. We plan to post a slideshow of the images soon. A fantastic and beautiful short video was made from the footage, which we also plan to post here in the next month. I cannot thank Scrappers Film Group in Chicago enough for their help with this critical documentation, which has created an invaluable and permanent record of one of Chicago's most groundbreaking buildings.
While it's still standing, we want to hear what you think about Prentice Hospital. Were you born there? Do you know someone who was? Have you seen the building? What does it mean to you? Please share your thoughts, stories, and photos with us. And check back here regularly for updates, and to see the amazing photos and video.
written by Chris Morris, Project Manager
If you've been following the Prentice press over the last few months, you know we are at a rather disappointing impasse. The Commission on Chicago Landmarks once again voted in February to deny preliminary landmark status to this amazing Modern building, even though they agreed that it met at least 4 of the 7 Landmarks criteria. If you want an excellent--although somewhat disturbing--analysis of the political hijinks behind this bizarre decision, read this week's Chicago Tribune op-ed by Cheryl Kent and Ron Grossman, two of the many local reporters who followed the Prentice battle closely.
With the same result from the second Commission meeting, we had little choice but to drop our lawsuit against the City. Clearly their procedures were somewhat suspect, but Judge Cohen left us few options to pursue the legal case any further. Northwestern now has their demolition permit and we anticipate that demolition will begin in the next few months, if not the next few weeks. So this means we're done, right? Absolutely not.
There are still a number of things we need to do as long as Prentice is still standing. I've been hard at work hosting a thank you party for the nearly 100 professionals in Chicago who donated over $550,000 of time and services to help us with different aspects of the campaign. This includes writers, architects, engineers, attorneys, designers, PR specialists, photographers, videographers, and many others. We made so many new friends and partners as a result of the Prentice campaign, and we needed to express our thanks and bring all these talented folks into the preservation camp!
While the party planning was underway, I received an unexpected phone call from Northwestern. They wanted to know if I had any interest in documenting the building before the demolition. Prentice has been shuttered for years and virtually no one has been able to get inside during that time. I jumped at the chance to create a photo and video record of this groundbreaking building for posterity. A fantastic team of photographers and filmmakers captured some extraordinary images, which we plan to make available to the public very soon. Keep your eyes on this page for links to the photos and a wonderful short video. In addition to photos, Northwestern Hospital has agreed to turn over all their archival materials on Prentice (photos, drawings, etc.) to us, which will be shared with the Goldberg family and the Art Institute of Chicago, both of which hold substantial collections of Bertrand Goldberg materials. We'll do everything we can to document this amazing structure as thoroughly as possible in the coming weeks.
We also want to engage all of you in this process. The Save Prentice facebook page has been posting our photos and updates, but we want to see your photos and hear your stories too! Starting today we'll put out a call for all of our supporters to post photos, video, stories, and personal recollections about Prentice on the facebook page and tag them with "Save Prentice." We are gathering these materials for use in a possible documentary-length video that celebrates the genius of Bertrand Goldberg and many innovations made manifest in Prentice Hospital. Thanks again to everyone for all of your help and support in what has been one ofthe most interesting, engaging, and hard-fought preservation battles in Chicago's history. We never could have made it as far as we did without all of you!
Please check back soon for more updates on the documentation project, videos, and our other activities around Prentice Hospital.
- Written by Chris Morris, Project Manager
2012 was an incredibly busy year for the Save Prentice Coalition as we battled Northwestern University and Chicago City Hall to preserve and protect Bertrand Goldberg's unique Modernist building. It became one of the most hotly-contested and talked-about preservation issues in Chicago, and resulted in some fascinatingâ€”and frustratingâ€”political theater.
An aggressive national marketing and social media campaign during the summer helped get the word out about the significance of the building and the number of other options Northwestern had to building their new research towers.
This, combined with remarkable press coverage, made a very strong case that Prentice was worthy of landmark designation and deserved to be saved. Then StudioGang founder and MacArthur Genius grant winner Jeanne Gang weighed in with a bold and provocative reuse idea in early October, which started a nation-wide conservation thanks to coverage by architecture critic Michael Kimmelman in the New York Times.
Throughout the summer and fall we continued to press the Commission on Chicago Landmarks to put Prentice back on their agenda for consideration as a local landmark. Prentice had been on the agenda for a preliminary determination of eligibility in June of 2011, but was pulled at the last minute at the request of Northwestern University. After several requests by the Coalition and others, the Commission finally agreed to put it on their November agenda. We were encouraged to learn that the staff report recommended landmark designation, arguing that Prentice clearly met 4 of the 7 landmark criteria (it only needed to meet 2 to qualify). But just two days before the Commission was scheduled to meet, Mayor Rahm Emanuel inexplicably issued an op-ed in the Chicago Tribune expressing support for demolition, thus pre-determining the outcome of the Commission meeting.
The Commissioners listened to a detailed staff report, followed by hours of thoughtful and well-reasoned public testimony in support of landmark designation for Prentice, and voted unanimously to approve preliminary landmark status. Then using a bit of procedural slight-of-hand, the Commissioners rescinded that vote in the same meeting based on a report from the Department of Housing and Economic Development. It was a shockingly brazen manipulation of the Landmarks Ordinance and procedures--even by Chicago standards--and set a very disturbing precedent for all future landmark determinations.
In response, the National Trust and our partner Landmarks Illinois filed a lawsuit against the City of Chicago and the Landmarks Commission on November 15th, challenging the unorthodox procedures as a violation of the Landmarks Ordinance. Judge Neil Cohen reviewed our request and issued an order to overturn the â€œrescindedâ€ vote of the Commission, and ordered the City not to issue any demolition permits until the court case was decided. Later than same day, the Chicago Architecture Club unveiled the winners of its "Future Prentice" design competition, which received over 70 entries from around the globe showcasing creative solutions that reused Prentice for new purposes.
Three of the entries in the CAC competition became the basis for detailed reuse proposals that were announced at a press conference on January 3. Architects from BauerLatoza Studio, Kujawa Architecture, and Loebl Schlossman & Hackl joined the CAC Competition winners, Cyril Marsollier and Wallo Villacorta, for a presentation of reuse options that reworked Prentice as new support facilities (offices, administrative spaces, classrooms, lecture halls, cafeteria, roof garden) in a new 1.2 million square foot medical research facility that met all of Northwestern's stated needs. And a report from Econsult Solutions demonstrated that this approach not only made more sense from an architectural and cultural standpoint, it also provided important economic benefits to the city of Chicago, creating an additional 600 temporary jobs during the rehab, as well as 980 permanent jobs, and generating over $1 million in tax revenue for state and local government. Copies of the reuse plans and economic information were shared with city officials and Northwestern leadership to encourage them to consider a creative â€œwin-winâ€ solution that benefits both the University and the city.
On January 11th Judge Cohen will hear oral arguments from the National Trust, Landmarks Illinois and the City of Chicago, and he may make a ruling on the lawsuit. Please check back soon to learn about the outcome of that hearing, and donate today to support the National Trust's ongoing work at this National Treasure.
Chicago' Prentice Women's Hospital is much-loved and much-admired as a Modernist icon, but is threatened with demolition by Northwestern University – which is why the National Trust is battling to save it alongside an impressive list of world-famous architects and Chicago-area preservation groups.
This week, Paul Goldberger, the Pulitzer Prize-winning architecture critic (and National Trust board member since 2005) penned a blog post for Vanity Fair magazine where he serves as a contributing editor. His post brilliantly captures Prentice's significance, and underscores the case for saving the innovative cloverleaf hospital.
Written by Chris Morris, Project Manager
Welcome to the Prentice Women’s Hospital page! I’m Chris Morris, a senior field officer and the project manager for this National Treasure, and I’ll be giving you periodic updates on all of our activities here in Chicago. I’ve been working with a coalition of local preservation and architecture organizations for nearly two years in an attempt to save this unusual 1975 structure.
After many attempts, we finally secured meetings with the building’s owner, Northwestern University, and Chicago officials earlier this year, where we learned that Northwestern had absolutely no interest in considering any use for the site other than medical research labs. So, we’ve adopted several different approaches in an attempt to convince Northwestern and the city that there are many reasons they should reuse this groundbreaking building as part of their larger plans for the campus.
A reuse study completed last year clearly demonstrates that Prentice’s radical open floor plan is ideal for all kinds of functions, including office space or housing, and that the roof of the base can be converted into an incredible roof garden that would be a welcome oasis for students, faculty, and neighborhood residents. Our recent conversations with hotel architects and developers also suggest that the building could be converted into a very attractive and “mod” boutique hotel located just a few blocks from Chicago’s Magnificent Mile.
And working with a prominent local architecture firm, we just finished an architectural analysis and drawings of the neighborhood that illustrate how Northwestern can build their research labs on the existing large vacant parcels already on their Chicago campus, while saving Prentice for another use.
We presented all of this information to city officials and Mayor Rahm Emanuel – along with an offer to bring architects, engineers, and developers to the table to develop more detailed reuse plans – in the hope that they will push Northwestern to seriously consider these options.
Finally, we took steps to prove that Prentice is a unique and iconic part of Chicago’s culture and history deserving formal recognition as a Chicago Landmark. Within the last month we prepared a detailed landmark nomination, which we’re presenting to city officials and the Commission on Chicago Landmarks to ask that they consider designation and protection of Prentice.
The research in the nomination was so convincing that it spurred over sixty architects to write an open letter to Mayor Emanuel requesting that Prentice be landmarked! Such a bold statement by so many internationally acclaimed architects like Frank Gehry and Jeanne Gang has generated lots of great press, along with other public calls to protect Prentice with a landmark designation.
Ian Geoghegan on August 07, 2013
Please don't let happen to this building what happened to the Armstrong Rubber (Pirelli Tire) Building in New Haven. Breuer's building is to New Haven whats Mies and Goldberg are to Chicago. Breuer's building is now just a vacant shell of which they tore down most of for an IKEA parking lot.
James McAndrews on March 25, 2013
I was the second baby born in the facility shortly after it opened on Decmember 15th, 1975 (Beaten by a few minutes by one Mr. Wayne Otis Jr., my mother has an excellent memory of her roomate lol). My parents have shared their memories with me many times of being in the building while construction was still going on and looking with new life out of the oval windows. 37 years later I am an architecture buff with a love for Bertrand Goldberg and his misunderstood vision of the future that is starting to be washed away in a society that is becoming increasingly disposable.
Jenny on November 30, 2012
I was a suburban hospital labor and delivery nurse in the 1980s and 1990s. Our very high-risk mothers and babies were taken to Prentice by helicopter or ambulance. Hundreds of lives were saved here. Thousands more can be saved! There is no reason it can't be modified to allow for current and future use for research or patient care or another use.
Rick Selle on November 30, 2012
This was my first construction job! I worked for Paschen Contractors right after high school, in the early 1970s. Ever since then I have pointed this place out to everyone I could! Many men spent many hours here and we are proud of it.
Anonymous on November 05, 2012
Chicago has always been behind-the-times in preservation. The haven't been at the cutting edge lf architecture for about 100 years - and they don't get it. Their gripes about tax implications and "control" - we deemed nonsense on the East Coast 30 year ago. Shame on the provincial leaders of Chicago.
Mary Flocco on October 25, 2012
What a wonderful building...inside and out! After giving birth to one of my sons, I lay exhausted in my hospital bed, and watched sailboats gliding along on our beautiful, vibrant-blue Lake Michigan. Whether a hospital building , a residence, or an office, this is a building built to experience. If torn down now, the architectural heritage of Chicago will be forever diminished!
Lora Toothman on September 21, 2012
I've only had the pleasure of visiting Chicago once, but I will never forget the way my heart started racing when I saw Betrand Goldberg's buildings in person for the first time. I remember wandering the Northwestern campus after the first day of my conference, and happening on Prentice Women's Hospital. What a wonderful surprise! Goldberg's buildings are part of the fabric of Chicago, and contribute to the city's unique architectural identity. Demolishing the Prentice Women's Hospital would destroy a part of that identity. Please find another use for the building, don't wipe it away.
Bill Figler on September 21, 2012
The building is truly unique and its design is amazing. My perspective is from inside the building where both of my two sons were born. Moms recover up in rooms in the rounded part with elliptical windows that framed The Magnificent Mile. These rooms felt directly connected to nurse's stations in each leaf or pod. You are able to sleep overnight as I did one night on the couch that turns into a bed to keep my wife company in the first days after our first son's birth. Today I like to take my sons by the building to point out where they were born before its gone. I hope they remember as they are not yet out of the single digits in age. The maternity ward is where hospitals connect with new future patients to get them for life and so it is very competitive even for a hospital with the reputation of Northwestern Memorial. It may be a little more challenging to adapt this building to some cookie-cutter office and lab space, but it could be done. A reuse as housing makes more sense. Most importantly Northwestern has taken over two large blocks immediately south of old Prentice. It wants to use part of the furthest south block to move the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago from where it is now immediately east of old Prentice. The now gravel lot is where Channel 2, Chicago’s CBS owned and operated, had its studio when Kennedy debated Nixon. Also many other older buildings that were much of Northwestern Memorial's other facilities have been demolished including the original Wesley Memorial Hospital finished in 1945 with a $1 million donation from Inland Steel founder George Jones, a beautiful gothic limestone building that was the first "skyscraper" hospital. The new Prentice Women's Hospital opened there in 2007. The Passavant Memorial Hospital building also a limestone gothic was demolished earlier to build the research buildings that are are on two sides of old Prentice now. The mid-century modern Lakeside VA hospital in the block immediately south of old Prentice was also completely demolished and is nothing but a gravel lot now. So much history has been lost and more will go with the demolition of old Prentice and RIC in the next few years. With nothing but blocks of empty lots aluminum boxes for their “campus”, the question is why can’t Northwestern do better?
Mary Kroul McAlpin on August 16, 2012
Paul Rudolph was a truly significant American modernist architect. We now appreciate Victorian Beaux Arts frou-frou, but are dismissive of the grand visions of the mid-twentieth century. Please, these are such endangered buildings. Do we really want to make the mistakes we made with such monuments as Penn Station? Let us be a little less short sighted.
Frank Butterfield, Lake Mills, WI on June 09, 2012
My mother, a nurse familiar with Chicago hospitals, sought out Prentice Women's Hospital as the place to have each of her three children. I like to think that my first view of the city was from one of Prentice's oval windows, or perhaps a glimpse of Prentice's distinctive shape as we headed home. To this day, I thank my mom for choosing Prentice, forever connecting my own story with Chicago's celebrated architectural heritage.
Lisa Skolnik, Chicago, IL on June 09, 2012
There are many reasons to save Prentice Women’s Hospital, from its seminal and eloquent design to its relative youth; a mere 37, the building is a prime candidate for adaptive reuse. It also offers splendid visual relief in a quarter of the city that is now dominated by tall, blocky hulks amassed shoulder-to-shoulder, with nary a curve or any room to breathe between them. But for me, there are far more poignant reasons to save Prentice. It is, and always will be, my personal four-leaf clover after delivering four healthy babies within its embracing walls, and experiencing the memorable relationships it fostered with other patients and the medical staff. With each birth, meeting mothers in neighboring rooms was unavoidable because of the intimacy prompted by the hospital’s design. I am still close to two of those women whose children were born the same day as mine, as are our children. The legacy of this remarkable building should not be destroyed. We must find a way to give it a second act.