On my second day in Chicago, in addition to taking a walking tour of the city and visiting the cemetery where Mies is buried, I spent a great deal of time going through the city with Grahm Balkany. While I took too many pictures to post from the road, I have tried to include some from major Chicago landmarks like the Illinois Institute of Technology campus and the Dirksen Federal Courthouse, among others. Aside from exploring the presence of Mies et al. in Chicago, some of the just great buildings in the city, and a disturbing tend in Chicago to raze mid-century public housing, we also met to discuss the Gropius-designed Michael Reese Hospital.
The hospital complex presents an unusual opportunity to save a campus-sized body of work by a renowned architect. More than the preservation opportunity, there is a clear potential for reuse, especially as the city of Chicago now owns the property and is attempting to raze the hospital and many surrounding buildings in preparation for its bid to host the 2016 Olympics. The replacement structures would displace a significant number of people, reroute roads, alter green space, and miss an important opportunity to harness the embodied energy in the hospital complex buildings. Shockingly, the proposed new construction would be athlete dormitories, facilities that could easily be retro fit into the hospital buildings (at least one of which was a dormitory).
There are three sides to this issue: the city, who would like to remove the complex; Landmark Illinois, who propose a partial reuse of the most significant structures; and Grahm Balkany, who suggests that keeping the campus whole is the best route.
Is this a case of overactive preservation or a chance to really be “green” and consider reusing a large campus for a similar purpose?
Next stop: Houston (for real).
Seth Tinkham is a self-employed grant writer and preservation planner located in Alexandria, Virginia. Prior to starting his own business, he worked for the citywide preservation organization in Washington, DC helping to plan activities related to modern architecture.