Thursday, April 23, 2009

I'll Trade You 1 Gropius Campus for 2 Mediocre Pre-War Hospital Buildings

posted by chicago pop

You win some, you lose some. In Hyde Park, we won this:

At the site of Michael Reese Hospital at the northern edge of Bronzeville, we're going to lose this:

(Source for beautiful pic: the blog Time Tells

And this:

(Source: David Schalliol, The Chicago Reader

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:

(Source: Gropius in Chicago Coalition

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.


Anonymous said...

Has there been a single issue of the Herald in the past 10 years that hasn't mentioned Jack Spicer? It's really kind of ridiculous.

Richard Gill said...

The Herald views Spicer as the embodiment of "fighting the good fight" against the godless agents of change. The Herald LOVES him. Likewise, the paper won't print a negative word about the antics of Hans Morsbach in opposing the hotel. Only grudgingly will the Herald say anything good about the U of C. I don't expect this to change, as long as Bruce Sagan has control of the Herald.

Yup, I'd go along with trading the Doctors Hospital building for the Gropius campus. Regardless of what happens to the Gropius buildings, I'd like to see the Doctors Hospital building demolished, to take that lever away from Spicer et al.

chicago pop said...

What struck me about this week's Herald was the aggression oozing off the front page -- "joins the fight" and "families angry" -- like it's only news when people are pissed or throwing punches. I'll pass over the fact that there's really no "fight" over the Michael Reese plans for anyone to "join" -- the only "community" that is outraged is that of widely dispersed preservationists and academics. And of course, as far as the "angry" parents at Ray, who hoped to dodge the rules and get favors from Arne Duncan for the preschoolers, well, being "angry" isn't really news, is it?

chicago pop said...

The Herald's motto, to replace "Loco Since 1882", should be "We're not going to take it!"

What's "it"?

Doesn't matter. Get angry. Join the fight.

Richard Gill said...

"...the aggression oozing off the front page [of the April 22 Herald]..."

The articles, by reporters Kate Hawley and Daschell M. Phillips, are written in a straightforward manner. It's the headlines that contain the blood and bile. I would be surprised if either of those two reporters had anything to do with the headlines.

Again, it looks like the Herald's management is bowing to its "base" (which is the old Hyde Park Establishment) and exhibiting phony "anger," because that's what it does.

chicago pop said...

"Community balks, Gets Angry, and Joins the Fight."

-From the Hyde Park Herald handbook of standard headlines, to be used by Executive Directors and Editors to slant articles in favor of Local Poohbahs.

Anonymous said...

Reporters almost never write headlines as-is. They're usually asked to suggest a few possible headlines, and when the paper is being laid out, an editor will generally either pick one that fits in the space or else come up with a new one that works (the latter is more common). Since article sizes fluctuate and layouts are fluid, you never really know how much space you'll have for a headline until layout time.

Richard Gill said...

" editor will generally either pick one...or else come up with a new one..."

Which tells me that headlines might say more than the actual stories, about a paper's agenda.

Colignius Ferox said...

This might not be the place to write you this message, but I couldn't find an email address to use for your site. I thought I would mention two points: 1. About three months ago I was getting some work done at D.J.'s Bike Shop (across from Bonjour, in the ex-Co-op mall) and D.J. told me that to get a permit to sell used bike parts at his shop, he was going to have to cough up about $1200 to the City. I don't know if this was fees or bribes or what. Ridiculous! Do you all have any insight into this? 2. On a similar note -- ridiculous and onerous impediments to business activity -- I recently read a riveting and outrageous account on Coyote Blog ( of how hard it is to get a liquor license in California. Have any of you written about liqour licensing in Chicago? I bet it's difficult, expensive and arbitrary. Feel free to contact me outside of the Comments section about this at or check out some of my stuff at, including about the Milton Friedman Institute. But these matters do touch on Hyde Park and its progress, so they are germane to your excellent blog.