New book brings praise and insight to Marina City

June 30, 2010

Marina City is having a pretty good middle age, all things considered.

Here's a complex that became an instant international icon when it was built in the 1960s, only to fall into near ruin in the 1980s when its parts fell into different ownerships. But now, the commercial buildings are reactivated, the House of Blues is bringing people to the area, and although I'm still not thrilled about the Smith & Wollensky restaurant squatting on the plaza with its fake olde tyme design, at least its better than nothing.

Added to Marina City's renaissance is new scholarship about the complex and its architect, the late Bertrand Goldberg. The Rice University dean of architecture gave a presentation on Goldberg last month at the Art Institute of Chicago (where Goldberg's archives are held). The Art Institute had been planning a full exhibition on Goldberg's work in 2011, but the plans seems to be on hold for now. And there is this: a new book, "Marina City: Bertrand Goldberg's Urban Vision," by Igor Marjanovic and Katerina Ruedi Ray--former director of the UIC College of Architecture--newly published by Princeton Architectural Press.

The book talks about the history, architecture, marketing and cultural impact of Marina City, as well as the story of its Bauhaus-trained architect. We also hear about the players behind the project, including janitor's union chief William McFetridge, who put up some of the financing, and developer Charles Swibel, who earned a measure of infamy during his tenure at the Chicago Housing Authority. Swibel's wife, however, gave Marina City its name.

"Marina City," is filled with great stories and photos, particularly those taken of the development by Orlando Cabanban of architectural photography firm Hedrich-Blessing, such as the one above. Below is model of Marina City with Goldberg, McFetridge and Swibel looking on:

Now, I dig this. This is a 1957 concept for Motel 66, which was never built. But the twin circular towers on a podium clearly presage Marina City. The book says it was planned for the South Side, but doesn't say exactly where:

And about the cultural impact of Marina City, the book cites many examples, such this one and, later, this one. And, of course, this one:

Now if the city would only give landmark status to Marina City...