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Ugly But Precious?

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Ugly But Precious?
National Trust for Historic Preservation’s Christina Morris

On Friday, Cook County Circuit Court judge Neil Cohen will decide whether to allow the legal battle to save the old Prentice Women's Hospital to advance. The National Trust for Historic Preservation’s Christina Morris (above) says scores of prize-winning architects worldwide will be eager to learn the fate of the iconic building designed by Chicago's Bertrand Goldberg in the '70s. Northwestern University wants to demolish it to build a research facility. But Chris tells us the unusually vocal fight to keep it has intensified the global debate over when to demolish historic structures—even relatively young ones—for new development or save them as the world’s built legacy. The recent Chicago Architecture Club competition for Prentice re-use designs drew 70 entries from 13 countries.

 
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USC School of Architecture senior lecturer Edward Lifson

USC School of Architecture senior lecturer Edward Lifson in front of Old Prentice. Yes, the old Prentice might be ugly, he says, but unlike much modern architecture, “it has soul.” The circular Streeterville building’s structure helped revolutionize women’s healthcare with a cluster layout that brought caretakers closer to patients and made room for family overnights. Attorney Michael Rachliss says the City of Chicago, which favors demolition, needs to conduct a more transparent process to determine Prentice's future. The old hospital can be incorporated into a redevelopment for Northwestern’s lab or renovated for a different use such as a hotel. Northwestern owns 44% of the land in Streeterville and can find another site, he says.

 
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Northwestern vp communications  Alan Cubbage

Northwestern’s Alan Cubbage says engineering studies determined the former Prentice can’t be used in the lab project. “It was designed in the ‘70s for a hospital,” he said. “We need a 21st century building designed for research.” The university must use this site because it’s adjacent to its Robert H. Lurie Medical Research Center. “We’re planning to build a new building that attaches floor by floor” to promote interaction between researchers. A new development could attract an additional $150M/year in medical research dollars, create 2,000 jobs, and generate $390M/year in economic activity. More important, he says, it could lead to cures for cancer, cardiovascular disease, and other human ills.