Sunday, March 15, 2015

Architectural Criteria

When a Universalist temple requested a proposal from an architect some years ago, their principal requirement was that the new addition not be architecturally significant. They were terrified that architectural significance would deny them autonomy in the use of their building.   I’m put in mind of this story by the fuss over the old Northwestern Prentice Women’s Hospital. Hospitals tend to favor neo brutalism and this building is no exception.  Four concrete towers are suspended around a central core.  The new Prentice is a glass Michigan Avenue style building with no more interest than any other department store, but time will tell.  At least it respects the neighboring buildings. Prentice has valet parking. I wonder how good the tips are.
The point of the old hospital was to meet the challenge of the home birthing movement.  In the 1800s, all births were home births but now most births take place in hospitals.  The Chicago maternity center, financially supported by Northwestern, encouraged and supported mothers delivering at home.  This movement was never particularly large in Chicago but back in the early seventies, it had a resurgence that was met in large part by the then new hospital.  The hospital was designed, and its building was intended to advertise, that mothers would room with their babies while still making efficient use of the nursing staff.  The Chicago Maternity Center did not make any appreciable inroads into the earnings of obstetricians.  However, having built this new facility Northwestern was able to cut off the Chicago Maternity Center grant money with a clear conscience.
This facility was also an answer to Michael Reese on the south side, which had always offered rooming in, moms and newborns in the same room.  Michael Reese had secret parking places, where you could leave your car if you scouted around and found them. Finally, the north side could have the same rooming in facilities at Northwestern that the south side had at Michael Reese.  Michael Reese has since closed.
Demographics and Northwestern have moved on.  Today 1/3 of all moms in the United States get caesarean sections and the average length of stay is over four days. There are a number of legitimate reasons to schedule a c-section but most are the consequence of delayed labor. The grift is simple:  when the pain gets intense, the patient goes for the epidural, which sometimes stops labor, then a C-section becomes necessary and you have to recover from abdominal surgery while taking care of an infant.  Bonding isn’t a big issue any more, yet the unfortunate building remains.
 An http://www.saveprentice.org  wants to save this utilitarian building after its purpose has passed.  What these people fail to grasp is that they are killing all hope for architectural creativity and design.  Would you want to pay for a building that you would never be allowed to demolish?   I can hear the client:
-Oh no, it has features.
-Make it more banal.
-It looks too clean, too elegant.
-Someone might like kitsch.
Eventually all new buildings will have to be under ground, so that their demolition will go unnoticed. 

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