Prominent Chicago architect Jeanne Gang came up with an idea this week to construct a new skyscraper on top of Prentice Women’s Hospital.
Gang’s vision could help the cause of preservationists, who have been working for months to save the clover-shaped structure from demolition. Gang was among a group of more than 60 architects and educators who petitioned the mayor in July to ask that the site be protected as a landmark.
Northwestern wants to build a new biomedical research facility on the site in the Streeterville neighborhood.
“The existing Prentice building that’s there is not suitable for repurposing for research,” said Alan Cubbage, spokesman for the university. “We really can’t give up that much space on the site for a building that does not meet our needs.”
Cubbage added that the university eventually wants a facility with far more square footage than Gang’s design would accommodate. And he said the old Prentice building could not be connected on every floor to a Northwestern building already sitting West of it. Connectors on each floor are an essential requirement for the university, which is not up for debate.
Gang got the idea to propose a research facility on top of the old building when she was driving around the city seeing architectural sites with New York Times architecture critic Michael Kimmelman. She showed Kimmelman the structure, which was designed by renowned Chicago architect Bertrand Goldberg. When Kimmelman suggested putting something on top of the building as a way to resolve the preservation problem, Gang went back to Studio Gang and drew it up.
“It didn’t ever really occur to me before that that could be done, but I was kind of excited about that notion,” Gang said. She thinks her proposal is architecturally feasible, though she isn’t proposing that her firm actually take the project on.
She’s just hoping to support a compromise on an issue whose two sides have lately seemed to her to be “intractable.”
“We know that this building doesn’t serve the purpose of biomedical labs today,” said Gang. “We want to have a top state-of-the-art research lab – that’s great for the city, that’s great for the economy. On the other side of it, you want to preserve the architectural heritage of Chicago. What if we could have both?”
Even if a compromise could be found, it’s unclear who the broker would be. The Save Prentice Coalition is putting pressure on the Chicago Landmarks Commission to recommend the site for landmark status this fall, but the commission won’t comment on the issue. And Mayor Rahm Emanuel has yet to weigh in.
Alderman Brendan Reilly (2nd), whose ward includes the Prentice building, said on Monday he’s waiting for a “Eureka!” moment that would give both sides what they want, but that for now he doesn’t see an alternative to tearing down the building. He could not be reached for comment on Thursday.