Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Landmarks Commission's Eloquent Requiem to the Building it's About to Destroy

from the Landmarks Commission report
When I write about the Commission on Chicago Landmarks, I often make a clear distinction between the two parts, only one of which is useless, that make up this entity.

The first is the staff of the Commission, an incredibly dedicated group of knowledgeable professionals, whose work can be seen in the  Reports for Proposed/Designated Chicago Landmarks, which combines highly readable narratives with amazing scholarship in documenting each building proposed for landmark designation.  It is the job of the staff to preserve Chicago's architectural treasures.

The second is the actual Commission on Chicago Landmarks, a body appointed by the Mayor to vote on proposed designations and send them on to the City Council.  As much as it may appear otherwise, it is not the job of to preserve Chicago's architectural heritage.  The job of this body is to make sure landmarking never gets in the way of the whims of connected developers.  It is a job they do well, as illustrated in the case of the Farwell Building.  When the Commission, in an unprecedented show of backbone,  voted not to approve a cynical destruction of that designated landmark, Chairman David Mosena, a former chief of staff to Mayor Richard M. Daley, simply called a second meeting to reverse the vote.
from the Landmarks Commission report
The real function of the members of the Landmarks Commission will be on display again Thursday, when they will be called upon to ignore the evidence, abrogate their responsibility, and vote to destroy Bertrand Goldberg's iconic Prentice Hospital.  Right after they vote to save it.

The Commission staff has created a report thoroughly documenting how Bertrand Goldberg's Prentice Hospital qualifies for landmark designation.  To become a landmark, a building has to meet at least two of seven criteria.  Prentice meets four: historical value, "exemplary architecture", significant architect, and unique visual feature.  Once again, the report is great scholarship, including a biography of Goldberg, a history of hospital architecture and of the use of concrete in architecture, a detailed analysis of the building, its importance and its construction technique, and a fascinating account of Goldberg's pathbreaking use of computer-aided-design in creating the building.  It's a compelling, informative work, generously illustrated with photos and drawings, including those you see on this post.  Download the report here
from the Landmarks Commission report
Usually such a report is added to page of reports we've linked above.  As of this writing, the Prentice Report is not on that page.  It is available only at the end of the November agenda, which I have never seen done before.  It also concludes with a section stating the building 's concrete will - duh- probably require restoration work sometime in the future.  I don't recall ever seeing anything like this in a report before.  It's got the Department of Development's fingerprints all over it, and seems to be just another part of their script. 
from the Landmarks Commission report
In fact, the agenda and its attachments actually lay out the amazing farce that has been carefully scripted by the Emanuel administration.  The draft resolution decreeing Prentice's destruction already assumes that the Commission members will follow this script and vote in favor of landmark designation only minutes before . . . 
WHEREAS, the Commission on Chicago Landmarks (“Commission”) voted to approve a “preliminary landmark recommendation” for the (Former) Prentice Women’s Hospital Building (the “Building”) on November 1, 2012; and  . . .
It also assumes that the Commission will then accept a report by Housing and Economic Development Commissioner Andrew J.  Mooney  that looks like it was written by Northwestern, itself. Probably it was.  It regurgitates almost verbatim Northwestern's arguments that the adjacent two-block vacant lot is off-limits as an alternative, and that Northwestern's state-of-art medical lab can only be built if Goldberg's masterwork is destroyed.

Northwestern is about to surround that two-block vacant lot, which has already been gravel-surfaced and chain-linked for over three years, with a perimeter of flowers.  That is their highest use for the site at the present time, with a vague reference to new construction sometime in the next "several years."  You'd think that Northwestern, with some of the most brilliant minds in the world, could figure out how to make a plan that would integrate the new research lab into the construction on that two-block vacant lot, where it could link to the Lurie Center just across the street, just like a new facility built on the Prentice site.  But I suppose the Department of Development thought such a suggestion would be impolite.  Instead, they're recommending that Prentice be destroyed, to create still another vacant lot, so the two-block square vacant lot across the street won't feel so lonely.

The script's final lines for the members of Landmarks Commission?
Section 3.  The Commission hereby accepts and approves the Department of Housing and Economic Development report recommendation and rescinds its “preliminary landmark recommendation” for the Building.
From unprotected, to a landmark, to a corpse - all in about an hour.  The cynical audacity is breathtaking.  To general public, the Landmarks Commissioners are distinguished citizens, charged with protecting the precious architectural heritage that has made Chicago known throughout the world.  To Andrew Mooney, they're monkeys on a stick, expected to dance to the tune of the guy who brung 'em.
from the Landmarks Commission report


Paul Kulon said...

::heavy sigh:: said...

I found this cool post here, thank you

John Hill said...

I just skimmed the report, and I was amazed at the depth of information on the building and the appreciation of it. I probably would have missed the acceptance of the HED to rescind their recommendation if you didn't point it out. So disappointing in so many ways.

Jake said...

the definition of an absence of leadership

Nate said...

Sad day for Chicago, you definitely called it.

Emily said...

Thank you for this nice sharing . Great post.