Sunday, April 26, 2009

Reese in the Reader

The Chicago Reader's cover story this week is an excellent article by Lynn Becker, detailing the absurdity of demolishing the Michael Reese Hospital complex:

The Rush to Raze

Michael Reese Main

Point for point, it's pretty hard to disagree with anything Becker says. He deftly covers all the bases: the propensity for tearing down buildings when they hit the fifty year mark, the vested energy in existing buildings, the sheer volume of landfill that would result from demolition, the architectural merits and pedigree of the complex.

Baumgarten Pavilion

Of particular interest is the notion of bridging the railyards to the east as an alternative site, an option that was inexplicably discarded. If the air rights are available, that should be a no-brainer. Such construction would constitute an expansion of the city's usable urban space, as well as providing Bronzeville with a much-needed connection to the lakefront. We would have Michael Reese (its buildings renovated and repurposed) sitting next to a second complex of brand new buildings, a chain of urban development leading to the lakefront. Tearing down Reese, by contrast, means destroying a dense development only to replace it with another one, while leaving the complex and the adjoining neighborhood disconnected from the nearby lake.

Michael Reese Service League Power Plant

And beyond that wasted opportunity, the insanity of tearing down a group of buildings that still look like brand new should be patently obvious to... well, anyone. The whole thing smacks of politicians craving the photo-ops of ribbon cuttings and ceremonial first swings of the wrecking ball. Don't believe the hype. Michael Reese should be renovated, not obliterated.

Through the archway

Additional Links:
  • The Campaign to Save Michael Reese Hospital
  • More photos of Michael Reese Hospital at my Flickr space.
  • Additional info and photos from Lee Bey: City Issues RFQ to Demo Michael Reese
  • Michael Reese at Forgotten Chicago
  • Wednesday, April 22, 2009

    Less than the sum of its parts

    Behold, the glorious NorTown Medical Building! (1963, N. California at Granville, aka the Gran-Cal Medical Center.)

    NorTown Medical Building

    It's everything that's wrong with MidCentury architecture, huh? Bland, dull, boxy, generic, right? Nobody put any thought or care into this one, did they?

    Well, don't be too quick to judge. Like many other things in Chicago, you have to look a little closer to find the interesting bits. Sometimes, the whole isn't nearly as interesting as the little fragments that compose it.

    Take the basement windows, for example. Rather than just plain glass or even just plain glass block, someone took the time to work out a little puzzle-piece pattern with two sizes of block to fill in this window. They didn't have to; the standard block would have served just as well. This is purely a decorative gesture, a small act of whimsy.

    Glass block puzzle

    Likewise, a sign attached to the building combines three different geometric forms into a little floating composition. (yes, three - don't miss the little arrow at the bottom.) I wager that the sign was something a bit more ornate when the building went up.

    Cal-Devon Pharmacy

    And the building's limited budget is focused on welcoming the visitor. The sidewalk entrance is decked out with sandy flagstone and a truly eye-popping tile pattern in green, white and gray.

    Entry details

    Don't you just want to reach out and touch it?

    Tiles and stone

    Turns out, this "plain" building even has a little bit of ornament!


    Make what you will of the overall effect, but it's hard to deny that earnest care was put into this building's design, like so many other "generic" MidCentury Chicago buildings.