New York Times architecture critic Michael Kimmelman waded into the controversy embroiling Chicago’s old Prentice Women’s Hospital Wednesday and wound up soliciting a unique solution from Jeanne Gang that has already garnered praise from the coalition of preservationists fighting to save the building from demolition.
Noting the “familiar” tone of the dispute between landowner Northwestern University, who wants to demolish Prentice to make way for up to 500,000 square feet of medical research facilities, and preservationists seeking landmark status for the distinctive 1970s Bertrand Goldberg structure, Kimmelman called for a third approach: incorporate old Prentice into a new design on the site. As the pendulum begins to lean towards demolition, with 42nd ward Alderman Brendan Reilly saying he supports Northwestern’s decision, the critic asked Gang what she thought.
Gang, who previously signed a letter of support for the movement to save Prentice, whipped up some concept drawings for a curved 31-story skyscraper that would sit atop Goldberg’s iconic quatrefoil. The architect said her design was meant to “[open] up a dialogue,” not serve as an actual proposal from her studio. In delivering on Northwestern’s specs for a new building while elegantly playing off Prentice’s structural strengths, however, she has reinvigorated the preservationists’ call for alternatives to erasing Prentice outright.
Kimmelman’s comments and Gang’s concept come the same day Mayor Rahm Emanuel, whose power to appoint members of the commission on Chicago landmarks gives him a great deal of say in such matters, is quoted in the Sun-Times wistfully conceding, “There may not be a common ground or a third way.” If he is indeed committed to compromise, the mayor now has a middle ground to consider.