At the site of Michael Reese Hospital at the northern edge of Bronzeville, we're going to lose this:
And even the power plant, which is an homage to a similar one by Mies van der Rohe at the IIT campus, and manages to give a remarkable aesthetic interpretation to an utterly functional structure:
All of which are far, far cooler (and, yes, more historically and architecturally significant...) than what we started with, and spent so much time arguing about last fall, which was this:
So there you have, in pictures, the irony of preservation in Chicago. We save nondescript and inexplicably "significant" hospital structures by the firm of Schmidt, Garden & Martin, such as the one above and a similar structure at the site of the now defunct Michael Reese Hospital. And we destroy the unquestionably accomplished designs and internationally significant structures of Walter Gropius at the same location.
For the bare bones of the story, go to the Gropius in Chicago website, which inventories the structures and the plans for a massive residential housing complex planned for the area as part of Chicago's bid for the 2016 Olympics.
The ironies in this story are many. With regards to the tale of two hospitals that have engaged the energies of Hyde Park's favorite band of preservationists, the case for the significance -- in any sense -- of the Doctors Hospital on Stony Island was never compelling, whereas the case for the significance of the Gropius structures is undeniable, and has only gotten stronger in light of recent research.
With regards to the economic benefits of demolition, Hyde Park's Doctors Hospital was a sure thing, in terms of a deal with a solvent private company, in terms of the jobs it would have provided to an impoverished part of the city at the onset of a major recession, and the benefits its activity would have generated for safety, liveliness, and neighborhood commerce.
Demolition of the Gropius Campus, on the other hand -- together with almost all the rest of Michael Reese Hospital -- will be paid for by the City of Chicago, to the tune of $85 million, in addition to the $500 million already pledged by the City (with a current budget shortfall of $469 million), and $250 million by the State of Illinois (with a current budget shortfall of $11.5 billion) to back Chicago's Olympic bid.
The ironies extend further out: the design of the Olympic Village has been overseen by Chicago's grande dame of architecture firms, Skidmore, Owings, and Merrill, which will go down in history as the firm which did the most to make the visionary sketches and plans of the interwar Bauhaus movement, founded by Walter Gropius, a physical reality in the United States of America.
How ironic that SOM's Olympic Village would be built on the ruins of a hospital campus designed by the firm's architectural progenitor.
Such irreverance, of course, is precisely the sin for which much of the modernist planning of the post-war period is today condemned. Thinking along these lines, Chicago Tribune architecture critic Blair Kamin asks in an editorial if we have forgotten, in the case of Reese Hospital, the lessons of urban renewal, and its "erase and replace" approach to urban planning.
The funny thing is, preserving the Gropius campus would be preserving a clutch of notable modernist buildings by an internationally significant architect, but it would also be preserving the relics of one of the most massive post-war episodes of urban land clearance in Chicago, of exactly the sort that Kamin objects to.
While there was, until recently, a plaque to Gropius at Reese, to my knowledge there is no plaque to the land clearance that facilitated the erection of his buildings.
By saving the Gropius campus, we'd be saving something that destroyed something else, in the name of ideals of urban planning that are now almost universally discredited. We like the buildings now, but not the conceptual boxes they came in.
That doesn't mean the Gropius Reese Hospital buildings shouldn't be saved; it just underlines the very wooly nature of preservationism as an intellectual project.
As for the irony of its outcomes -- preserved Doctors Hospital, demolished Gropius campus -- the pictures above say it all.