Friday, August 17, 2012

Northwestern, Grow Up: Refuting Northwestern's desperate PR campaign to Destroy Prentice.

click images for larger view
Northwestern - the hospital and university - is getting desperate. Faced with growing international opposition from architects, historians and activists to Northwestern's plan to demolish Bertrand Goldberg's iconic Prentice Hospital building, they're mounting a full-press PR effort whose basic tenets are so transparently absurd that they stand only to make Northwestern look brazenly cynical and ridiculous at the same time.

And so we have the op-ed in Crain's Chicago Business by Dean of the Feinberg School of Medicine Eric Neilson in which he contends with what looks to be a straight face that thousands of jobs, hundreds of millions of dollars - no make it $1.5 billion - will all vanish into thin air, and, apparently, thousands will die, if Northwestern isn't allowed to destroy Prentice.    It's like tax cuts for rich in Republican politics.  Demolishing Prentice has become the answer to every problem, the fulcrum on which the entire future of the Northwestern campus rests in the balance between a glorious future and complete disintegration.

This isn't an argument; it's a tantrum.  It's pretty much on the level of threatening to hold your breath until you die unless you get more bubble gum -and then won't you all be sorry.

And then, of course, there's the Chicago Tribune.  On August 12th, with its Pulitzer Prize winning architecture critic Blair Kamin safely packed away to a Nieman fellowing at Harvard, the Trib ran an editorial under the typically pompous headline, Let Northwestern build, shilling for the destruction of the building Kamin has called a "boldly sculptural, brilliantly engineered high-rise"
Chicago Tribune urban planning at work
Hedrich Blessing photography, courtesy the Chuckman Collection

It was full of the usual half-truths and evasions, which is what you expect from those wonderful people who gave you McCormick Place on what should of remained open lakefront.  It was the Tribune we have to thank for what was essentially a vanity project of the paper's isolationist, red-baiting, labor-hating editor Robert R. McCormick, who dispatched political reporter George Tagge to Springfield to lobby legislators to rubber-stamp the project.  Although the original eyesore mercifully burned down in the 1960's, it's much better successor by Gene Summers still crowds what today would have been open lakefront, for all the people.

Thanks, Chicago Tribune.  Please don't hold it against us if we don't have much use for your new "gift" of destroying Prentice.

Northwestern would like you to not notice the letter to Mayor Emanuel supporting saving Prentice from 60 major architects from all across the world.  Frank Gehry?  Jeanne Gang? Who are they?  What trees to they plant?  What bankers do they have on retainer?
Enter Paul Beitler.  He isn't some building-hugging goo-goo, but one of Chicago's successful developers.  In a conversation with Crain Chicago's's Business Shia Kapos, he says, in Kapos' words, that "he's had enough of the 'out with the old' mentality."  Beitler calls Northwestern's bluff. "There are a lot of things in nature that don't fit, but we find ways to work around them and with them.  This building is so unusual that regardless of the its designer it deserves to stand the test of time. If allowed to remain it will be the only building that stands out from the blocks of architectural mediocrity . . . "  You can't kid a kidder, and Beitler isn't buying Northwestern's protests that they have alternative to destroying Prentice.  He's been in the business and done enough deals to know that's pure B.S.

Today, the Save Prentice Coalition issued an eloquent refutation of Northwestern's arguments.  Read the full text after the break.

Speaking from someone who saw its excellence first-hand when I was in the emergency room a couple weeks ago, Northwestern Hospital is one of Chicago's great institutions.  Why is it dealing with the issue of Prentice like the really bad doctor who patronizes his patients with baby talk?

Northwestern, grow up.  

Stop insulting our intelligence with your puerile arguments and false alternatives.   Prentice doesn't work for you?  Fine.  There are a lot of developers for whom it would work out just fine.  There are other places to build your state-of-the-art laboratory.  You already have a lot bridges.  Make more, longer if you have to.  As Paul Beitler says, Prentice is the only distinctive building in a sea of architectural mediocrity that demeans your brand.  Don't destroy it.  Use it in building that brand.  There are a lot of people who want to help.  Let them.

Don't be deluded in thinking that once you destroy Prentice, it will be forgotten.  As the legacy of Bertrand Goldberg's work grows in time - and it will - Northwestern, whatever else its achievements, will be forever known that as the vandal that destroyed a key piece of Chicago's cultural legacy.

You're better than that.  You're all about healing, and healing is about a lot more than what goes on in surgery.  Your campus is a forbidding, unwelcoming physical presence.   It misrepresents you as a mere repository of great corporate power.

Make your campus human scaled. Heal it, as you continue to build.  Start by agreeing to find an alternative that saves Prentice, perhaps the only place on campus where the soaring grace truly expresses the aspirations of your mission.   With just a portion of the same brilliant thinking you bring to the practice and teaching of medicine, you can find a solution to saving Prentice that will let you do everything you want, while making you a true hero in the definition of Chicago's character, past, present and future.

Read the Save Prentice press release after the break.

TO: Chicago Reporters
FROM: Save Prentice Coalition
RE: Northwestern’s New Public Relations Campaign

This week, Northwestern University started making some big promises to Chicago. On
Monday, August 13 in response to pressure from the preservation community, they
launched the “Finding Tomorrow’s Cures” campaign to convince Chicagoans that jobs,
investment, and cures for diseases are on the horizon but can only be realized by
building on the site of the historic Prentice Women’s Hospital at 333 E. Superior Street
in Streeterville.

Here are three things to know about their new campaign:

Northwestern Is Offering A False Choice

• Northwestern wants us to believe that Chicago needs to choose between
saving lives and saving Prentice, but it is a false choice. We can and
should do both.
• None of the benefits Northwestern promises are tied to placing their new
research facility on the site of the historic Prentice Women’s Hospital.
• In fact, the intimately intertwined partners of the McGraw Medical Center

consortium – including Northwestern University and Northwestern
Memorial Hospital – could designate an alternate site to build a medical
research facility and invest in the reuse of Prentice for other institutional or
commercial needs. This would deliver all of the same benefits
Northwestern promises – and create even more jobs and economic activity.
Northwestern Still Doesn’t Have A Plan for the Prentice Site
• Northwestern wants us to believe that there is an urgent need to demolish
historic Prentice Women’s Hospital, but construction isn’t scheduled to
start until 2015. This provides more than two years to find a solution that
builds for our future while preserving our past.
• The only specific fact Northwestern provides about the initial construction
is that it will be “300,000 to 500,000 square feet.” There are no land-use
plans, renderings, massing studies, environmental impact analyses, traffic
and parking studies, financing plans, etc.
 Northwestern Isn’t Living Up To The Standards It Sets For Others 

• As part of their campaign, Northwestern is calling on the city to
demonstrate leadership and a commitment to innovation. Meanwhile, their
campaign is designed to convince Chicagoans that finding a reuse for
historic Prentice and an alternate site for research is simply not feasible.

 • However, just across the street sits a massive vacant lot owned by
Northwestern University’s long-term strategic partner Northwestern
Memorial HealthCare. These two institutions have a long history of
cooperating on development in Streeterville, millions of dollars in shared
real estate and facility leases, and a joint strategic plan that includes
investment in facilities and infrastructure among its objectives.

 • Northwestern has more than enough resources to find a solution. What
they are lacking is will and creativity. As Northwestern University
spokesperson Al Cubbage recently stated when asked how they would
fund a new building, "We have the money. There's no question about that.
Northwestern University has an endowment of $7 billion. That's billion with
a b."


Anonymous said...

Though I imagine this comment will be deleted, here goes:

This coalition's statement is full of nonsense. Complete nonsense.

Nowhere has the author(s) taken the time, or used the common sense, to realize what really matters to anyone, or anyone university, or any corporation, or literally ANYTHING in the real world - actual feasibility.

You want Prentice to stick around? Great! Guess what? The University - who commissioned the project, owns the property, and has the goal of utilizing their space to make the most EFFECTIVE use of their medical school campus - does not. THEY DON'T CARE if modernist architecture fans want Goldberg's outdated building to stick around - it's counter intuitive to just about every reason/rationale that their medical school exists in the first place.

So if you want to convince them to keep this "masterpiece", then give actual, real world, practical, CONCRETE reasons and proposals to HOW the university can ACHIEVE the SAME goals that they want for this site, without using the site, and without blowing millions of dollars to placate the desires of fans of modern architecture.

TO the opponents of NU's plan - grow up, and start providing real, grown-up (i.e. based in actual results and cost/benefit analysis) solutions or alternatives. Thank you.

And I have no affiliation with the university. Just have common sense.

Terry Murray said...

Thanks for staying on top of this, Lynn. Heritage matters. Northwestern (a great medical centre where my mother received excellent care after collapsing in downtown Chicago with a stroke more than 20 years ago) owns the property, true, but owes something to the city and its citizens, and should be steward of that property.

Unknown said...

It was full of the usual half-truths and evasions, which is what you expect from those wonderful people who gave you McCormick Place on what should of remained open lakefront.

Public Relations