A bizarre parliamentary maneuver two weeks ago granted and subsequently revoked landmark status for Bertrand Goldberg’s embattled Old Prentice Women’s Hospital in Chicago, leading some to speculate about legal recourse for a coalition of preservationists who have fought owner Northwestern University’s plans to demolish the building. Today members of that coalition took their battle to court, alleging the Commission on Chicago Landmarks “acted arbitrarily and exceeded its authority.” The lawsuit, filed on behalf of the National Trust for Historic Preservation and the Landmarks Preservation Council, calls on the court to send the Prentice decision back to the commission for reconsideration. It echoes procedural complaints first made before the commission even met Nov. 1, when members of the Save Prentice Coalition decried a meeting agenda that apparently “pre-orchestrated” the failure of the proposal to protect Prentice. Commissioners first voted to recognize the building’s merits for preservation and granted it landmark protection; they then voted two hours later, during the same meeting, to revoke that protection. The basis of the second vote was an unusual presentation from the commission of Housing and Economic Development, which argued new construction would bring jobs and research dollars that supersede the importance of preserving Prentice. Today’s lawsuit alleges that the council was not permitted under its guiding ordinance to consider economic matters in it decision. A judge will consider the suit this afternoon. The Chicago Architecture Foundation today opens its Reconsidering an Icon show, which will feature 71 proposals for reuse of the building, compliant with Northwestern’s biomedical research requirements. The show will be open until February. UPDATE [3:58 p.m. CST]: Cook County Judge Neil Cohen granted Prentice temporary landmark status Thursday afternoon, preventing the city from issuing a demolition permit for now. “We’re going to do no harm to Prentice while this can be resolved," Cohen said. The next hearing is Dec. 7.
Posts tagged with "Northwestern University":
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.
Even after several Pritzker-winning architects signed onto the preservation campaign last week, the Commission on Chicago Landmarks again omitted from its meeting agenda the embattled Old Prentice Women’s Hospital. Then, noting the recent flurry of media coverage, commission Chariman Rafael Leon announced at the top of Thursday's meeting that the commission would address the issue before the end of its fall season. The decision follows what the Chicago Tribune called “a public relations blitz” by the building’s owner, Northwestern University, who is seeking demolition. In addition to full page ads in the Tribune, Northwestern has touted the results of a survey it conducted that showed evidence for public support of the building’s demolition. The Save Prentice coalition questioned the validity of those results, however, calling on Northwestern to release the full text of its survey. “We don’t know, for example, whether respondents were told of Northwestern’s extensive real estate holdings, including a massive vacant lot across the street from historic Prentice that is owned by Northwestern’s teaching hospital,” coalition representatives wrote in a press release Monday.
More than 60 architects flocked to the side of Bertrand Goldberg’s embattled Prentice Women’s Hospital Wednesday, calling on Mayor Rahm Emanuel to ensure the concrete cloverleaf’s permanent place in Chicago’s skyline. “The legacy of Bertrand Goldberg’s Prentice Women’s Hospital is unmistakable. It stands as a testament to the Chicago-led architectural innovation that sets this city apart,” reads the open letter, whose cosigners include Frank Gehry, Jeanne Gang and the partners of SOM. “Chicago’s global reputation as a nurturer of bold and innovative architecture will wither if the city cannot preserve its most important achievements.” Northwestern University, Prentice’s owner, announced their intention to tear down the vacant hospital last year. But Alderman Brendan Reilly helped secure a stay of execution for the building, galvanizing a preservation movement that has earned the support of the Chicago AIA, Landmarks Illinois and AN's editorial page. Prentice Women’s Hospital moved to a new facility down the street in 2007, opening up the distinct building to arguments of functionality in a high-density neighborhood. Coming from a major research university, Northwestern’s demolition plans suggest preservationists stand in the way of progress. But a reuse study by Landmarks Illinois found rehabilitation as a lab, office or residential tower would take less time and cost less than new construction on the site. Preservation would also “provide visual relief,” they wrote, “for this portion of the Streeterville community, which is increasingly dominated by dense and boxlike high-rises.” Indeed Prentice’s structurally unique cantilevered concrete shell is an architectural asset in the neighborhood. It is the only hospital Goldberg designed for his hometown, and its quatrefoil plan emerged from his belief that architecture should strengthen community through human relationships. The worldwide list of architects calling for its preservation shows Prentice continues to bring the design community together, almost 40 years later.
Yesterday that National Trust for Historic Preservation announced Bertrand Goldberg's Prentice Women's Hospital had made its annual 11 Most Endangered List, bringing national attention to the fight to save the quatrefoil-plan, concrete building. Also yesterday, the local group Save Prentice staged a rally outside the building featuring speakers including Zurich Esposito of the Chicago AIA and Jim Peters from Landmarks Illinois. Northwestern University wants to demolish to the building to make way for an as yet unfunded and unspecified medical facility. After a temporary hold was placed on the building, preventing the University from seeking a demolition permit, Prentice was placed on the docket for a hearing for local landmark protection and then quickly tabled. As I wrote in my recent editorial when the building was briefly on the landmarks docket:
While the building is far from saved, the Commission’s move brings to an end the curious silence surrounding the status of the building. Though the non-profit Landmarks Illinois has been pleading for a hearing since 2003, until now, all the major players who could save the building have remained mum. Alderman Reilly, who negotiated the building’s 60-day grace period, has not said if he believes the building should be landmarked. Newly minted Mayor Emanuel, who campaigned on a platform of greater public transparency, has been similarly quiet on the subject. Presumably Alderman Reilly or someone in the Emanuel administration nudged the Commission to take action. While we are grateful to this unknown string-puller, we are left wondering why so much still happens behind closed doors.Thanks to the efforts of local architects, designers, preservationists and citizens, and now the National Trust, a lot of eyes are following the fate of the building. Northwestern may change course just to avoid the bad P.R. If they are negotiating a land swap with the city--as many have speculated--let's hope the city treats Prentice better than it treated the Gropius buildings at the old Michael Reese Hospital.