Saving Bertrand Goldberg’s Prentice Hospital at Northwestern University’s Medical Campus is not so much about preservation as it is about character. The face of an institution, like the face of a human being, reveals character—and Northwestern Hospital’s character has, with few exceptions, been as architecturally appealing as a cold toilet seat. The major exception (now under fire): Goldberg’s ideosyncratic and not entirely useful Prentice Hospital.
Since the modernist Galter Health Science Library by Gerald Horn with Holabird and Root and the neo-Gothic Tarry Research and Education Center by Ralph Johnson and Perkins+Will both make an effort at being contextually consistent with the long-since demolished Passavant Pavilion, we must look to what Northwestern Hospital has done lately. And Northwestern Hospital has of late favored function over aesthetics, as if they were mutually exclusive. The desire to be up-to-date with the most recent medical technology has been employed by the Hospital as a code-phrase for dumbing-down their increasingly monolithic campus, which that now looks more like an overblown suburban incubator complex than a quality-driven addition to Chicago’s well-deserved Modernist heritage.
Jeanne Gang’s brilliant proposal to the problem of restoring Prentice’s usefulness, a solution that situates a tech-tower above Goldberg’s structure, was dismissed virtually out-of-hand by the Hospital. Decoded, that probably means that Northwestern jumped the gun, commissioning the replacement structure even as they failed to anticipate that there would be any public push-back to their announced proposal.
That Mayor Rahm Emanuel has sided with such bottom-line logic is regrettable, particularly as CEO of a city that has a hard-earned reputation as the world capital of Modernist architecture. It's not too late, Mr. Mayor: If you allow proposals like Studio Gang’s design to run their course, you might uncover a win-win proposition.