In the wake of the controversial demolition of Bertrand Goldberg’s Prentice Women’s Hospital, Northwestern University has moved forward with the process for selecting an architecture firm to design the building's replacement. Firms that protested the demolition, however, have been excluded from consideration for designing the building's replacement—and may be blacklisted from other projects at Northwestern.
Some 80 architects, including top designers such as Jeanne Gang, FAIA, and Frank Gehry, FAIA, signed a September 2012 petition urging Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel to consider the case for designating the 1975 building as a historic landmark. As a result, none of those architects are being considered in the competition to design the new Biomedical Research Building.
"Certainly we look for architects who have worked with the university, and who are interested in the university's endeavors," says Bonnie Humphrey, director of design and construction for Northwestern's facilities management department. "There were architects who signed that petition, and we never wanted to put them in an awkward position. We didn't want to ask them to submit their qualifications."
One architect who signed the petition, which was circulated by the Landmarks Preservation Council of Illinois, says the consequences for political advocacy go even further. "We are currently and have in the past done work for Northwestern," says the architect, who spoke on condition of anonymity. "We found out we've been blackballed for two years."
This architect says that a frequent client at Northwestern contacted the firm to ask why it had been frozen out for an upcoming project. The architect then went to Humphrey for clarification, and she indicated that Northwestern would not be soliciting the firm for work for at least two years, the architect claims. Humphrey declined to comment on the accusation.
"They're happy with what we're doing," says the architect, whose firm has done work at Northwestern in the past. "There's some stuff [at the school] that we'd gotten that went to sleep for a while, and now it's coming back to life. Now I'm sure we won't be working on it."
"Early in the going, I was asked by someone at WBEZ what my feeling was, and I said I felt like it should be preserved," says Dirk Lohan, FAIA, an architect who spoke publicly for the building and also signed the petition to the Mayor. "It wasn't a deep conviction I held, but my position was a very early one. Later I learned that Northwestern was very upset about that."
"We have not heard of a specific blacklist," says Lisa DiChiera, director of advocacy for Landmarks Illinois.
Architects from several firms described their support for the Prentice Women's Hospital in different ways, ranging from lukewarm to activist. One architect signed the petition less in support of landmarking Goldberg's building than in favor of exploring possibilities beyond demolition. Gang, a MacArthur Fellow, envisioned a reuse case for the building, at the request of The New York Times architecture critic Michael Kimmelman, for example.
One architect who signed the petition, Leonard Koroski, FAIA, is a principal at Goettsch Partners, a firm that is part of one of three finalist teams in the running to design the new Biomedical Research Building that will replace the Prentice. Both Michael F. Koffman, AIA, and James Goettsch, FAIA—who are partners at Geottsch—wrote letters of support to Mayor Emanuel arguing that the Goldberg-designed Prentice building should not be granted landmark status, however.
Eleven other architects, as well as Chicago advocacy groups, civic organizations, and medical institutions, challenged the proposal to grant landmark status for the Prentice. The decision was effectively settled when Mayor Emanuel weighed in to support the demolition in an October 2012 editorial published by the Chicago Tribune.
Humphrey says that Northwestern has no official policy regarding the selection of architecture firms for projects and notes that the process for deciding the future of the Prentice Women's Hospital and its site was not public.
The demolition of the Prentice Women's Hospital began in October. The three finalists in the Biomedical Research Building competition are Goettsch Partners and Ballinger, Perkins+Will, and Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill Architecture and Payette. The winner will be announced next week.