Should We Save It? Why?

There has been a preservationist battle over the Prentice Women’s Hospital, which looks like a strange concrete spaceship from a 1950’s sci-fi movie. Here is an article from a preservationist web site describing the building and its history. From the article

A concrete, cloverleaf-shaped icon, Prentice Women’s Hospital has added drama and interest to the Chicago skyline for nearly four decades.

One of the current issues is that it isn’t adding ANY interest to the Chicago skyline anymore. The reason for this is that myriad other, larger buildings have been added all around it – the only reason that I can see this at all (other than being on the street, facing it), is that I am atop a building that ACTUALLY is part of the skyline and looking down.

While I am all for preservation in various forms it seems odd to demand that a hospital retain an old facility like this. The facility is clearly a high maintenance item – just look at it – and can’t be very practical to refit for today’s technology and practices. And there is nothing else to do with this facility – it is in the middle of the hospital campus so you can’t just turn it into some “boom boom” nightclub like you could here in River North, or even into some sort of weird shopping mecca like Bloomingdales did with the old Shriner’s building (site of the circus).

I support the preservationists but this one seems like a lost cause because it would obviously be impractical and fiendishly expensive to do anything with it, and it isn’t in a good location for alternative uses. The building is also too tiny to be called part of the skyline anymore. And plus, it is damn ugly.

Cross posted at LITGM

15 thoughts on “Should We Save It? Why?”

  1. seems like a lost cause because it would obviously be impractical and fiendishly expensive to do anything with it

    Isn’t the main purpose of preservationism to get other people to pay to preserve buildings that don’t justify their costs? If it made commercial sense to preserve it some developer would have bought it by now.

  2. Good point Jonathon – while there have been buildings that has obviously been historically important – and destroyed – this isn’t one of them.

    A 40 year old concrete building that is odd-looking and (IMO) ugly?

    The Capitol Records building along the Hollywood Freeway is more deserving – and it is a far older – 10-15 years? (;-) – making it far more deserving….

  3. I might add, if you have a home and it becomes on the preservation list, it is suddenly an artifact that has very strict rules about upkeep and remodeling. It’s not always a desirable thing to have.

    But the building in question – looks like 1960s East German apartment architects met Frank Lloyd Wright ;-)

  4. “And plus, it is damn ugly.”

    That’s an excellent reason to oppose the preservationists. Ugly should disappear, not be preserved.

  5. The real purpose of preservationism is to devalue and destroy property rights. The uglier and more useless a building is, the more the “preservationists” will clamor to save it for some pretentious bu11$#;+ reason, e.g. “a wonderful example of mid 20th century neo-brutalism”. Their object isn’t aesthetic, it is a pure expression of power politics.

  6. The destruction of NY’s Pennsylvania Station was a catastrophe,but fortunately,Jacqueline Kennedy was able to block the destruction of Grand Central Station. Certainly there are things worth preserving,but the tendency is to promiscuously preserve anything the least bit different. Landmarking should be used sparingly. Certainly the owner of landmarked propert should be compensated for the cost by getting transferable air rights or some other compensation for his burden.

  7. Good points Renminbi.

    And these preservationists – I wonder if they “wonder” – of know how the building is supposed to be a viable self-supporting economic entity?

    In the case of Grand Central Station it is vibrant today – it has a use.

    If this building is put on a “preservation” status Northwestern would then have an albatross around its neck.

    Reminds me of this family I met – their grandfather had 1,000 acres of prime coast land – but a California govt entity – the CA Coastal Commission – has a whole list of “prohibited things” for their land – at this point most of it is just for cattle grazing. They have land that is potentially worth many millions – that they can hardly use.

    Except pay taxes on it.

  8. It seems the obvious solution is to bulldoze it in the middle of the night, while patients are still in it. That IS how Chicago operates.

  9. “Architecture’s Ugly Ducklings May Not Get Time to Be Swans” By Robin Pogrebin

    GOSHEN, N.Y. — As Modernist buildings reach middle age, many of the stark structures that once represented the architectural vanguard are showing signs of wear, setting off debates around the country between preservationists, who see them as historic landmarks, and the many people who just see them as eyesores.

    … the blocky concrete county government center designed by the celebrated Modernist architect Paul Rudolph … Completed in 1967, the building has long been plagued by a leaky roof and faulty ventilation system and, more recently, by mold; it was closed last year after it was damaged by storms, including Tropical Storm Irene.

    * * *

    … Theodore Dalrymple … described Brutalist buildings as “absolutely hideous, like scouring pads on the retina. One of those buildings can destroy an entire cityscape that has been built up over hundreds of years,” …

    * * *

    Historians also say appreciating architecture can require an education. “It’s like saying, ‘I don’t like Pollock because he splattered paint,’ ” said Nina Rappaport, chairwoman of Docomomo-New York/Tri-State, an organization that promotes the preservation of Modernist architecture. “Does that mean we shouldn’t put it in a museum? No, it means we teach people about these things.”

    But Mr. Dalrymple said the notion that the public needs to be educated to appreciate Brutalism is like saying that people “need to be intimidated out of their taste.”

    No expertise is needed to decide that a building is ugly, he said * * *

  10. This argument is like a parallel one in music. In the 1950s the aesthetic powers that be decreed that we must learn to love atonal, arrhythmic, Modern French Music. To paraphrase Dr. Daniels, it is like scouring pads in the ears. The generation growing up in that era responded by ignoring orchestral music in droves. It is fairly safe to say that the death of the WWII generation will be the death of classical orchestras.

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