In October, Chicago preservationists' fight to save Bertrand Goldberg's historic Prentice Women's Hospital from demolition ended in disappointment. With the blessing of city officials and over the objections of renown architects like Frank Gehry and Jeanne Gang, wrecking balls began to dismantle the brutalist structure owned by Northwestern University. In its place, the university promised a high-tech biomedical research facility that would generate hundreds of millions of dollars in economic activity for the city every year.
Last week, a wavy glass design by Perkins+Will was chosen as the successor to Goldberg's masterpiece. The first phase of construction will focus on a $370 million facility consisting of nine floors for research, with 235 lab modules, due to begin in 2015. The second phase will add a curving tower with 21 floors of lab space. No target date for that phase has been announced yet.
"It was just a building of its time," Perkins+Will's Chicago design director, Ralph Johnson, says of the old Prentice building. In designing its successor, the architects aimed to not only create an expressive form, but to forward the notion of what health care architecture can achieve.
The new space will be connected by bridges to other medical school facilities like the neighboring Lurie Medical Research Center, and feature two very different facades—a linear design opening up onto Huron Street to the south, and a more sculptural, curved entrance on the northern side at Superior Street, at the heart of the medical school's campus. Inside, labs are broken up into "neighborhoods" with lounge areas to encourage collaboration and interaction between researchers. On the bottom floor, a winter garden, restaurant and plaza will be open to the public.
When designing the new building, Perkins+Will considered the original master plan architect James Gamble Rogers created for Northwestern's downtown campus back in 1920. Nestled in Chicago's Streeterville neighborhood, an upscale portion of the city's lakefront filled with high-end restaurants and hotels as well as hospitals and skyscrapers, the medical school, which still features some of its original Gothic architecture, spans multiple blocks centering on Superior Street.
"James Gamble Rogers did the original buildings between Chicago [Avenue] and Superior [Street]. He did a master plan drawing, which we found, for the medical school," Johnson says. "There was the idea of connecting Chicago through the green spaces." In keeping with this plan, the firm focused on trying to link the surrounding streets, by adding more gardens and a landscaped roof, making the building more transparent and opening up entrances on both sides.
Unfortunately, the most expressive aspect of the building—the tower, which Johnson envisions as a "sculptural object for the skyline"—is on hold pending funding and other considerations. With the loss of Goldberg's instantly recognizable, Jetsons-esque creation, Perkins+Will's plan seems safe—some might say boring—in comparison. But science, understandably, is driven more by function than form.