Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Chicago Landmarks Commission Stalls Prentice Hospital Preservation Hearing

Northwestern University Medical School’s shuttered Prentice Women’s Hospital on the city’s central lakeshore campus of the University may be considered a thing of beauty by architecture buffs, but the controversy over what to do with the outdated shell, empty for the last 5 years, is getting very ugly. The University wants to tear down the structure and replace it on the high priced lakefront site with a modern medical research facility. Preservationist groups and architecture aficionados claim the existing shell can be adapted to research use, and that this early example of groundbreaking hospital configuration – four open plan “villages of care” on each floor – should be kept around for posterity.

Designed by Chicago architect Bertrand Goldberg, the Prentice Women’s building is ranked 11 on the National Trust for Historic Places list of most endangered buildings worth preserving. Goldberg’s 1970’s design has since been emulated by hospitals all across the country, in efforts to humanize and sensitize interaction between patients and caregivers in the hospital setting. Sixty prominent architects have petitioned Mayor Rahm Emanuel to force the University to save the structure, and Mayor Emanuel has punted the issue over to Landmarks Commission chairman Rafael Leon. Northwestern has agreed to delay demolition plans until the Landmarks Commission holds a hearing on the matter, yet chairman Leon refuses to put the issue on his agenda, further delaying a resolution.

The hospital campus, situated on the city’s prime Gold Coast lakefront just north of Navy Pier, is the site of ongoing high priced construction projects funded by some very generous benefactors, whose names now adorn the facades of the hospital structures they have funded. Controversy over these developments, and the congestion they cause neighborhood residents, is nothing new – one of the latest contretemps involved the helicopter landing pad atop the new Lurie Children’s Hospital. The University needs to restore the empty Prentice site to useful purposes. Anyone who forgets that Mayor Emanuel is a Northwestern grad school class of 1985 alumnus is missing the point.

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