Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Michael Kimmelman pops by Prentice for a few minutes - solves problem

image courtesy Studio/Gang, Jay Hoffman
New York Times architecture critic Michael Kimmelman was in town recently, and between looking at the new Logan Center for the Arts, making some side excursions, and helping several little old ladies across the street,  he managed to shoehorn in a couple minutes to come up with the solution for saving Bertrand Goldberg's Prentice Hospital that should have been obvious to all of us all along: just build a 31-story tower on top of it.

I'll give him credit for this:  the proposal does seem to have caught everyone off guard - including Northwestern's press spokesman Al Cubbage who, of course, wouldn't say if the University would so much as consider the proposal.

Kimmelman enlisted architect Jeanne Gang and the staff at Studio/Gang, whose Jay Hoffman came up with the renderings you see here. The proposed structure is very striking.  Its facades provide a concave scalloped counterpoint to Prentice's convex cloverleafs.  Its very New York in its audacity, which can also be interpreted as meaning far more complicated than necessary - Kimmelman simply declined to see the two-block-square empty lot across the street. 

Unlike Studio/Gang, which researches all of its projects thoroughly, it doesn't look like Kimmelman spent much time fact checking.  He refers to Blue Cross/Blue Shield as a precedent for a building that added 25 stories years after its completion, but seems unaware that the original structure was designed specifically to bear the weight of the later addition.  Is Prentice engineered to carry another tower above it, or would a massive new support structure have to be inserted inside ?  The illustration shown below seems to depict the base of the Jeanne Gang tower pretty much covering the entire floorplate of Prentice as they meet.  Would Prentice become a hollowed-shell, a kind of facadectomy?
image courtesy Studio/Gang, Jay Hoffman
My initial reaction is that this would be an intervention like Rem Koolhaas's subsuming of Gene Summers Commons Building at IIT into Koolhaas's Student Center.  Prentice would remain free standing but look almost like a set of small spools beneath a large cabinet of thread - the new tower - soaring above it.

But that's just an initial reaction.  If you haven't already noticed, Kimmelman's piece strikes me as the kind of hot dog take-a-cursory-look-and-make-sweeping-pronouncements gambit that Tom Friedman has made famous, but bringing in Gang was his one saving grace.  "It’s about opening up a dialogue," he quotes her as saying.  Let us begin.

Read Michael Kimmelman's A Vision to Avoid Demolition for a '70's Pioneer.
image courtesy Studio/Gang, Jay Hoffman


Anonymous said...

One would guess that Mr. Kimmelman did not study at Cooper Union in New York, where they teach their architects some serious engineering.

Frankly, as someone who works in the neighborhood, these rendering have a very "lipstick on a pig" feel. This is an ugly and unhappy building. It is not an uplifting building. It has the feel of Soviet brutalism. Nearly all of the proposals to "save" the building include major changes to the appearance, either above or below. When even the proponents of the building conclude that the only way to save the building is major plastic surgery, that says the building probably does not deserve to be saved.

James J. McKay said...

Anonymous writes:

"It is not an uplifting building. It has the feel of Soviet brutalism."

Maybe yes, maybe no, but at least it is something other than the towering, mundane stuff Northwestern has been building all around Steeterville in the past 15-20 years.

So, yes, I like the proposal, or more importantly, the dialogue it successfully opens. A very important and unanswered question in all of this is what will replace Old Prentice? If NU showed us, that could give a greater positive context for assessment and ultimately sway the diverse discussion. Yet, NU refuses to say which seems to translate in to "more of the same."

Northwestern argues in its radios commercials that this is the only site that can be used for there to be unique, transcendent context to overcome cancer. Yet, a proposal such as this makes the case that a radical act of imaginative preservation could very well inspire even more imaginative and ultimately successful cures for cancer.

Unknown said...

I actually like this design. I am not a fan of Goldberg's buildings, especially the ones intended to be used as health care facilities. I wouldn't care if it was torn down, but I feel this would be a good compromise for everybody. This design almost reads as 2 separate buildings to me. The top tower almost seems looks like a separate building in the background, still leaving the original structure in tact.