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Prentice Hospital: A Continuation Goldberg's Organic Architecture

A couple of weeks ago, Preservation Chicago released its annual list of most endangered Chicago buildings. Citing the threat of demolition and the "lack of recognition of Prentice as a great work of architecture," Bertrand Goldberg's Prentice Women's Hospital was included on the list. New Curbed contributor Hank Jarz gives the building some recognition...

In the years after completing the Marina Towers along the Chicago's riverfront, Bertrand Goldberg had been busy molding new formal mutations to his explorations of formed concrete structures. His designs stemmed from analyzing the relationship between functional patterns and those of human interaction. During these times he focused on the rethinking of modern hospitals and how the typology should evolve while consolidating program.

Prentice Women's Hospital, located amid the Northwestern University Medical Center of Chicago's Streeterville neighborhood is a prime example of Goldberg's relationship studies of the 1960s. Completed in 1974, the building was Goldberg's first in which a tower's concrete shell was entirely sprung from the structural core, eliminating the need for supporting columns within the pedestal below and providing a column free space inside the tower. These discoveries made planning interior program extremely flexible malleable.

The clover leaf design stemmed from the radii of the massive arches used to cantilever the seven story shell of the patient-care tower. These arches were developed from the walls of the stair and elevator shaftways. They are connected by a continuation of the shaft forms and are generated into a curved arch that creates the depth of the leaves without any deformation. To aid in this design so reliant on the transition of forces, Goldberg relieved the loads on the archways by reducing the thickness of the concrete shell as structure dictated.

Through his investigation of structure, producing the familiar form of Prentice Women's Hospital's tower, Goldberg created spatial clusters to identify the nature of group relationships in both functional and visual terms. The four "patient-care villages" per floor each contained ten beds radiating from infant nurseries (initial uses while building was psychiatric center varied) with the central axis of the clover leaf being the nurses station and circulation systems located on each floor. The purpose of this was to eliminate the contamination of through traffic while promoting interaction among those patients and workers stationed on the floor. To Goldberg's own admission, he states, "It works well, and I think it will look damn exciting. But it did not express all of the internal spatial relationships that we felt could be better expressed, with greater economy."

The separation of the "patient-care villages" from the administrative uses of the plinth was one that developed in the same investigative manner of the relationship between functional patterns and human interaction. Knowing that a separation of the "treated" and the "treating" created a more pleasing health care environment in addition to a more functional one, the design called for the plinth to be visually, structurally and programmatically differentiated from the organic tower. The result was a four story administrative center housing offices, therapy classrooms, a triage center, admitting and all other supporting services based off a traditional grid wrapped within a curtain wall system.

Upon completion, Prentice Women's Hospital was a strong continuation of Bertrand Goldberg's organic architectural designs that proved to be widely influential to global architecture of the 1970s and 1980s. While the building was used as programmed initially, the changing needs and economics of patient care, the business of hospitals and the escalating property values of Streeterville eventually culminated with Northwestern Memorial Hospital moving out of the building in 2007. Since then the clover-leafed tower and much of the plinth has sat vacant, unmaintained, as the Medical Campus surrounding it sees new construction and continual investment. Similar to all of Goldberg's Chicago works, the Prentice Women's Hospital is not protected by local landmark designation and is continually listed on Illinois Landmark's 'Ten Most Endangered Historic Places' listing. While preservation support for the building is strong, it is widely assumed that the building will be demolished in the coming years to make way for a new medical research facility that would maximize the available square footage of the site.

Often considered one of the great works of architecture in a great architectural city, we could be experiencing the last moments of a modern classic that never aged into public embrace.
· Preservation Chicago Releases 'Most Endangered Buildings' List [Curbed Chicago]
· Video Interlude: Save Bertrand Goldberg's Clover Leaf! [Curbed Chicago]

Prentice Women's Hospital

250 East Superior Street, Chicago, IL 60611 Visit Website