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.
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Donate to our campaign to save Prentice Women’s Hospital.
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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.
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.