Should This Historic Architectural Icon Be Razed?

Even in a city famed for the sheer scope of its award-winning architecture, the old Prentice Women's Hospital building in downtown Chicago stands out, thanks to its sculptural, futuristic facade. But soon, Prentice might not be standing at all—if Northwestern University has its way.


The imminent destruction of Prentice has sparked a heated debate in Chicago over the past few years, pitting preservationists against administrators who say a new building is necessary for scientific progress. The fight is summed up in a new short film by journalist Nathan Eddy, The Absent Column, which also happens to function as a visual memorial to the hospital—it's bursting with stunning HD footage.

Prentice was designed by world-renowned architect Bertrand Goldberg in 1975. This brutalist four-story clover-leaf design is cantilevered over a five-story rectangular base, an unusual structure that has been called "the only example of its type anywhere in the world" by prominent engineer William F. Baker (the guy that did the structural engineering for the Burj Khalifa). What's more, its design is a hallmark in architectural history, having been among the first structures laid out using computer-aided design and 3D mapping techniques.

Illustration for article titled Should This Historic Architectural Icon Be Razed?

However, the building has stood vacant since 2011, when the women's hospital moved into new digs down the street. With the building going unused, Northwestern University announced plans to demolish it and install a state-of-the-art bio-medical research center on the site.

The prospect of losing the building generated a loud public outcry, with no less than six Pritzker Prize winners joining in the call to save it. Unfortunately, a 2012 ruling by the Chicago Landmarks Commission denied the hospital landmark status. As of March of this year, Northwestern has moved forward with demolition permits for the site. Conversely, the National Trust for Historic Preservation has begun lobbying efforts to save the building.

While the fate of Prentice remains undecided, take a look at the documentary above and see where your allegiances lie. Should Prentice be saved, or razed? [Wiki - Image: Uncommon fritillary]


Update: Apparently Northwestern is through arguing about this and has already begun demolishing the structure. Move along folks, nothing to see here.


I'm torn over this one. I grew up in Chicago, and like all sons of Chicago, was instilled with the importance of good design and the city's architectural history. I didn't hear about this building until a few years ago when the preservation battle ramped-up. In a city of architectural gems, this is but a tiny ruby. Yes, it is an elegant, innovate building. Yes, it will be replaced by a truly mundane glass box (I'm guessing), but the fact remains that all American cities have too MUCH Brutalist architecture, not too little. Enough time has passed for Americans to rather objectively agree that small porthole windows, unsustainable poured concrete facades, and low ceilings combine to create an inflexible artifact of another era. Marina Towers, Goldberg's masterpiece is still as vital a building as it was 40 years ago. This one has passed its useful life and should be replaced.