Strawn+Sierralta invited to write about Betrand Goldberg's Prentice Women's Hospital for CLOG's "Brutalism" issue.

CLOG is a quarterly architecture journal available only in print format. Each issue explores, from multiple viewpoints and through a variety of means, a single subject particularly relevant to architecture now. Succinctly, on paper, away from the distractions and imperatives of the screen. Strawn + Sierralta's contribution to the Brutalism issue outlines the effort launched by a coalition of organizations including AIA Chicago, Chicago Architectural Club, DoCoMoMo, Landmarks Illinois, the National Trust for Historic Preservation and Preservation Chicago to save Bertrand Goldberg's Prentice Women's Hospital from being demolished by its owners, Northwestern University.


A defining architectural style of the postwar era.

"Characterized by severe, abstract geometries and the use of cast concrete, block and brick—Brutalism arguably produced some of the world’s least popular public buildings. The style’s international propagation brought modern architecture to ever-larger constituencies, and some argue that the perceived shortcomings of these Brutalist structures led to the demise of the Modernist project. 

While today often admired (and even loved) by architects, many Brutalist projects—Bertrand Goldberg’s Prentice Women’s Hospital, Marcel Breuer’s Ameritrust Tower, Paul Rudolph’s Orange County Government Center, Alison and Peter Smithson’s Robin Hood Gardens, and Gillespie Kidd and Coia’s St. Peter’s Seminary, to name a few—are now threatened with demolition. Judging by the work of many contemporary practitioners, however, the influence of Brutalism only seems to grow. Before the wrecking balls swing, it is time to look back on, debate, understand, and learn from Brutalism."




Old Prentice Women’s Hospital is one of Chicago’s most iconic buildings. The concrete, cloverleaf-shaped structure was designed by visionary architect Bertrand Goldberg. Completed in 1975, it was considered groundbreaking for its cutting-edge architecture and advanced engineering, as well as for what was a progressive design approach to organizing medical wards and services. It was recognized for its innovative floor-plate layout that eliminated the need for structural support columns. The curvaceous layout allowed for direct sight-lines and easy access between mother and healthcare provider at a time when a more "closed-door" approach was the norm.

Today Prentice Women's Hospital, in sound condition but in need of repair, is viewed with different opinions. It is considered an important icon for the city by some and an eyesore by others. The building is owned by Northwestern University, who is planning to tear it down to build a new state of the art medical facility. 

The Chicago Architectural Club (CAC) saw the 2012 Chicago Prize as an opportunity to join the cause and to bring forward the issue to a larger audience. It was also an opportunity to generate conversation around Chicago's mid-century modern heritage. What buildings should be kept, and what buildings should be demolished? When is a structure too young to be protected or too old to be useful for new programatic needs? 

The CAC partnered with AIA Chicago and the Chicago Architecture Foundation to launch the international ideas competition "Future Prentice" in August 2012. This turned out to be one of the most successful competitions the CAC has ever held, receiving seventy-one entries from thirteen countries. 

The jury featured Chicago's foremost architecture, preservationists and cultural leaders, who selected three winning entries and an honorable mention, all of which ultimately preserved Prentice, though through vastly different strategies. The first place proposal by Cyril Marsollier and Wallo Villacorta, bisected Prentice with a glassy tower that served to reflect a complete image of the structure, while adding new space. This, like the three other selected designs, approached reutilizing Prentice through hybrid strategies that hint at new ways of thinking about current historic preservation criteria. 

"Future Prentice" was also the first CAC competition to have a companion exhibit open at the same time as the announcement of the winners. The exhibit featured all entries to the competition, along with a proposal by Jeanne Gang, and ten up and coming Chicago architects that were invited to join the conversation by the CAC. 

The competition has served its purpose. It sparked public debate and brought forward many designs and ides from around the world. Unfortunately, the fate of the building remains in the hands of its owners. In November of 2012 Chicago's Mayor Rahm Emanuel publicly supported Northwestern's decision. Preservationists filed a lawsuit and the structure was granted temporary landmark status. Recently, the landmark status has been denied, and the judge has allowed the preservationists to file an amended lawsuit in 30 days. Time is running out.


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