Chicago - Saving Walter Gropius



A series of Walter Gropius buildings are on the chopping block in Chicago. The plan is to destroy them all (28 buildings on the Michael Reese campus, 8 of them confirmed as Gropius buildings; Gropius also master planned the campus) in order to build the Olympic Village for 2016.

An organization was formed a few months ago to fight the destruction of the campus and is actually making a lot of progress, despite the messy politics of the city. The tide may be turning. But a lot of work remains. The current step is to get as many people as possible that care about it to show their support.

So, I wanted to let you know, if you live in the Chicago area, that there is a meeting hosted by the Alderman of the 4th ward (the ward Michael Reese Hospital is in) and the Chicago 2016 commitee that has been designated as the place for people that are concerned about it to come and speak their mind. The more people that come, the better.

The meeting will be:
August 11th - 6pm
Chicago Urban Arts League - 4510 S. Michigan

Information about the campus and its current status are at .


Aug 9, 09 11:51 pm

I don't understand.

If Gropius had NOT had something to do with the buildings (he only consulted and they complained that he couldn't draw), would you be able to explain WHY the buildings are any good or worth saving? What if they were just by the hospital architect and there wasn't anyone famous associated with it? Do any of the buildings really stand out as inspired Architecture?

Save for the power plant building, they're really uninspired buildings and, yes, I have been inside them and have been all over the campus.

This strikes me as more of a career move by the student involved than it does with any serious discussion about Architecture or Preservation.

In comparison, Marcel Breuer's buildings have proportion and a plastic power that gives them life for the long haul. Breuer was the Architect, not Gropius.

Aug 10, 09 1:13 am

These guys wanted to save this turd by Mies on the IIT Campus:

They're putting in a train stop. It also shows how little attention Mies paid to the performance and function of building materials. He used the wrong mortar, i.e. Portland cement mortar, and the thing is splitting apart.

Aug 10, 09 1:52 am

But make, that door selection is phenomenal.

Aug 10, 09 2:58 am

I'm not sure what architectural worth the buildings or campus have, not having looked at, studied, or visited them, but what strikes me as idiotic about the whole thing is that the city seems gung-ho to raze them ASAP but we won't learn the fate of the Olympics till October. Shouldn't we simply wait two months, and see if we even get the bid? What was that saying about counting chickens...

Aug 10, 09 3:00 am

Ah, but the olympics are a means to an end. Real estate development. Raze the buildings now with the olympics as an excuse, and win or lose, the site is one step closer to beong developed.

Aug 10, 09 8:41 am
Distant Unicorn

Whoever it is being this project has already edited Wikipedia to show their point of view. :)

There's some good things about this site but nothing a installation or a statute wouldn't otherwise commemorate.

I'm whole-heartedly against stadium building but this hospital occupies what seems to be a prime piece of real estate. While the Olympics would be good for the city, it would only be a temporary contribution to the economy.

So, we have a en empty piece of property that will become a danger to the community or an Olympic stadium that will be used for the next 5 years and then will become a danger to the community.

So, from an urban planning perspective, it needs to get infilled or redeveloped. But I don't think a stadium will do a whole lot more over a decade. My only recommendation would be to keep the site in the Bauhaus style, commemorate the history of the hospital and develop the property to match the surrounding uses and income levels.

Aug 10, 09 9:02 am

Anyone ever see pictures of Baghdad University? It was all done by Gropius and the TAC. You wanna talk BRUTAL!

Aug 10, 09 10:01 am
won and done williams
My only recommendation would be to keep the site in the Bauhaus style

barf. i can only imagine what that would look like.

it's an interesting quandry - what do you do with a so-so set of buildings by an important architect? i believe there is an innate environmental problem with razing the buildings rather than reusing them. why isn't conversion being considered? as with most preservation battles these days, i believe the issue revolves more around environmental responsibility than it does historical/cultural preservation.

Aug 10, 09 10:21 am
Distant Unicorn

Because an institutional environment like a hospital can't be reused to house the 3000-8000 people who will be living the the Olympic village for 2 years.

I propose another quandry... we should we save modernist buildings when modernism was so eagerly willing to replace the ornamental buildings of the neoclassical era and all their trappings of European Absolutism?

Using power to eliminate power while empowering those with power to save buildings against power? Or something.

Hey, I only recommended that because of the phrase "Bauhaus district" I saw a lot. If planners are going to impose taste (federalist style, neoclassical, mission), why can't they impose modern taste as well? An "eye for an eye."

I'd love to hear you architects talk about this because frankly I do not know enough "art of buildings" to know the importance of someone like Gropius.

Aug 10, 09 10:30 am
Distant Unicorn

Wait, the London Olympic Village is planned at 17,320 beds.

Aug 10, 09 10:31 am
Distant Unicorn

Wait, the London Olympic Village is planned at 17,320 beds.

Aug 10, 09 10:31 am

They want to build Olympic Housing there. It's a land grab by developer buddies of Daley but that's a planning issue.

I wish there was an open competition to design the housing so we'd have Architecture rather than more bland, pension-fund product like in the South Loop.

Historic Preservation shouldn't be used as a planning cludgeon.

Aug 10, 09 11:44 am
won and done williams
Because an institutional environment like a hospital can't be reused to house the 3000-8000 people who will be living the the Olympic village for 2 years.

that's not really true. there are a number of state mental hospitals that have been reused for mixed-use commercial-residential development. given the beauty of the setting in some of the op's link, it seems prime for redevelopment. whether it has sufficient far for the number of beds required is questionable, but i could see a development plan that proposes rehab and new construction. the tear down first approach to planning seems actually far more dated and modern than these buildings do.

Aug 10, 09 1:12 pm

i would think that the recent two olympics would highlight how wasteful much of the infrastructure built around the games can be, once the event is over...hopefully that will enter the decision making process.

Aug 10, 09 1:29 pm


These are 6 to 8 story structures (maybe one of them is 10? I don't remember) where building 30 or 40 stories is the norm.

More density, as you know, is greener.

Hospital stuff tends to have floor plates that may not translate well into residences.

Aug 10, 09 1:33 pm
Distant Unicorn

I should have said "like the hospital."

For this piece of land, it's probably a lot more than 33 acres (closer to 37 acres by my calculation)... but 33 usable acres seems about right.

Assuming a bed capacity of 17,500, that's 530 beds per square acre.

Assuming that there will be another 2,000 people on staff as support staff, that's 590 people per square acre. Or 73 people per eighth of an acre lot.

That's a relative density of 377,000 people per square mile.

The current set up is a 450 bed setup or 13 beds per square acre.

Assuming the Olympic village will set aside 400 square feet per bed per occupant plus an addition 30% space for support structures and additional 10% space for training and sporting facilities, that's 560 feet per bed.

Or a demand of roughly 9,800,000 square feet of needed space. Or 296,000 square feet per acre. Or at 100% development, wall-to-wall 7 story buildings.

Assuming 200 square feet per support person plus an additional 40% for access, that's an additional 16,969 square feet per acre of space.

A total of

Judging by my calculations, this development will require somewhere around 10,360,000 sq ft.

That is 2.27 Willis (formerly Sears) Towers worth of space.

Aug 10, 09 2:24 pm

"Hey, I only recommended that because of the phrase "Bauhaus district" I saw a lot. If planners are going to impose taste (federalist style, neoclassical, mission), why can't they impose modern taste as well? An "eye for an eye.""

That's why I think this group is very misguided and dangerous.

They don't have any ability to distinguish between what is good and what is just a building. Property owners have rights and if you want to infringe upon them, there better be a good reason.

There was a really run-down SRO on State St. in between Huron and and Erie. The group objected to tearing down the hotel. Then they asked the owner to use the facade of the old hotel as the entrance to the new hotel. Would you want some self-appointed group telling you how to design a building?

The old SRO building was a flea-bag dump. It was a really uninteresting masonry Victorian building. Why spend so much of your capital trying to save something that should have been torn down a long time ago?

There's a FL Wright house on Central (west side ghetto) that's empty and falling down. Why not save that instead? What about helping to rebuild the Louis Sullivan-designed synagogue that burnt? There's a lot of buildings around town that need help. I don't understand why they make a fuss over a lot of mediocre stuff?

Aug 10, 09 3:03 pm

Is this really Make? What have you done with Make!? Make would never talk property rights. This man is an imposter.


Aug 10, 09 3:11 pm
won and done williams
More density, as you know, is greener.

that is simply a platitude. it depends upon the type of construction and urban environment. my guess is nine times out of ten 8-10 story reuse is far "greener" than 40-50 stories of new construction (assuming that's what they would do; seems strange for an olympic village.)

are you on the olympic committee, make?

wow, this thread is going in a very different direction than when archinect tried to save this banal building. times they are a changing around here.

Aug 10, 09 3:14 pm

I am guilty of both being for owner property rights and platitudes.

High-rise construction is generally more efficient. Yes, that is a very general statement.

I don't agree with you about Breuer. He was a real artist.

Aug 10, 09 3:38 pm
Distant Unicorn

Jaf, saving a running functioning library is much different than saving a for-profit hospital campus.

One major difference is the question: If the business went under, was the architecture successful-- Can architecture (and by extension, planning) be blamed for the failure of a business?

The answer to that is a resounding "yes." I can't imagine the real estate taxes on a 37-acre property is a prime location is a negligible expense. Could this have been done on a single acre of land? Does a hospital really need an elaborate park-like environment?

I don't really see both threads as a concurrent example of historical preservation.

As for the greener comment, I'd like so say from an environmental science standpoint (not a green standpoint) that higher density environments are better. It's cheaper to rehabilitate (centralization), cheaper to mitigate (centralization) and easier to contain (centralization). It effects less natural land (centralization) and makes logistics simpler (centralization).

For a water rights standpoint 1 to 16 units an acre is the most damaging, above 128 units per acre is optimal.

Although, all of the studies I've seen regarding water quality and density fail to mention the increase in the number of specialized chemicals due to differences in living patterns.

Aug 10, 09 3:55 pm

As a recent preservation architect graduate, new to Chicago I am taking great interest in this thread. I'm not sure where I stand on the city's bid to host the Olympics and the infrasture projects a successful bid will bring.

I find it interesting that those not so in tune to preservation make such generalized statements about saving/not saving historic buildings. For me each case must be weighed individually as each case presents its own pros and cons. I'm also amazed at how many people are blinded by aesthetics and they use that as the sole decision in why a building should be saved/not saved. Many more factors should and ultimately do go towards the decision to save/not save a particular building (or I would like to think so).

In this case an important factor to consider, like him or not, is the role Gropius played in the design/implemenation of this campus. Furthermore the contributions the hospital made (if any) need to be considered. As well as the cultural and social impact made by the building and the buildings function.

It's not always about saving/losing a building. But rather the history and contributions made through/within/by these buidlings. A plaque or statue cannot make up for the contributions found in the actual embodiment of the space.

Aug 10, 09 4:41 pm

thebldgblock ,

Unfortunately that Hospital campus destroyed a beautiful neighborhood along the south lakefront. Block by Block they raised the "blighted" slums. There are pictures online of hundreds of acres raised in the 50s under the guise of redevelopment. If those streets and queen Anne / Italianate buildings were still here this would be one of the most successful and desirable areas of the city. The practical matter for Chicagoans who have to live in this city is that a large part of the near south Lakefront is an underutilized hospital and truck staging yard. 9 out of 10 Chicagoans dont even know what Michael Reece is let alone where it is. The Olympic Village will be a far greater cultural and neighborhood asset to the citizens than the hospital campus whose buildings' significance are extremely questionable.

Aug 10, 09 4:55 pm

You're right, Jack.

PS Don't tell anyone I said that. ;-)

Aug 10, 09 5:23 pm
the tear down first approach to planning seems actually far more dated and modern than these buildings do.

Welcome to Chicago.

It bothers me that something with so much embodied energy and dollars in it is being recommended for whole-sale tear down. Same thing I feel regarding the old Post Office, even though it's pretty ridiculous also. On the other hand I haven't seen any great proposals for Michael Reece (apart from UrbanLab's water generation proposal, which would be awesome in my view). (At least, I *think* I remember the water generation proposal reaching to Michael Reese?) I liked Ronan's mausoleum proposal for the Post Office... doubly intriguing now that we know how overbuilt / corrupt the local cemetaries are!

Aug 10, 09 6:25 pm

Thanks for the "before Michael Reese" background, Jack. Unfortunately we can't bring back the beautiful neighborhood this campus wiped out. As the old saying goes, "two wrongs don't make a right". Though I still don't know if not saving the hospital campus is a wrong. As I indicated I am new to the area and this Gropius work in particular. I plan on getting up to speed, because I do believe it is something that needs to be debated and discussed.

Before we go threatening to tear down historic buildings in the name of progress and culture, I'd like to see a well thought out and viable option presented. That makes a much better argument than, "that building sucks/ugly/old/etc". More often than not there is a great solution somewhere between saving the building and destroying the building. I'll bet that some of those buildings could undergo some adaptive use along with new construction to create a vibrant Olympic village (and housing for post Olympic Chicago).

This is a great discussion unfolding in this thread.

Aug 10, 09 6:43 pm

It does seem odd to advocate the tear-down of Michael Reese, while condemning the razing that preceded it.

Aug 10, 09 6:45 pm

Is it really a Gropius work?

Let's see his drawings!

Does consulting on something make you the Architect?

What makes a building worth keeping?

What's the Architectural argument?

A few questions to consider.

Michael Reese was the place in the Chicago Jewish to go for medical services. People flew in from across the country to be born there. It was originally located near a majority upper-middle class Jewish neighborhood not far from the temple where Dankmar Adler's father was the Rabbi.

Aug 10, 09 6:50 pm

One argument you could make is the give another Architect a chance to do something great.

Ironically, trying to legislate the style ends up creating mediocre work. Perhaps there could be an opportunity here to stage a competition to encourage cutting edge Architecture for the site and then make that a precedent? Like the Goodman Theater was lost so the Piano-designed museum could rise?

( I omitted the word "community" above.)

Aug 10, 09 6:54 pm

It doesn't seem odd at all. Its an exercise in summation. What solution yields the greatest sum benefit? The hospital campus is unlovable. It really is. Even among architects who are more sensitive to the nuances of architectural styles these buildings generate a cold reception. They are poorly built, unsuitable for their purpose, cut off a great many people from the universally accessible lakefront and offer a unique chance to build a world class Olympic village in the heart of a major international city.

Most Olympics are held scatter site far from the host cities core. The Chicago proposal puts some 70% of the events and venues within 5 miles of downtown and mass transit hubs. Its always a loss to lose an important building but its less so when the replacement is greater than the existing. This was the logic when raising the slum in the 1950s and it seems a fitting final chapter to the scorched earth planning principles of the era. The city of Chicago has torn down about 100 mid century slab tower type public housing complexes that despite all talk about embodied energy, they were failures of design, both architecturally and socially. A great city needs to make the hard calls in order to progress. Sometimes the decision is correct and other times wrong. Only time will tell but without taking the chance you'll never know.

As for the original neighborhood - the overwhelming thinking of the time said to tear down everything. Moses wanted to ram an expressway through SOHO and Greenwich Village. Obliterate Little Italy. The risky, non-mainstream choice in the 1950s would have been for Chicago to leave the ghetto alone. If that route had been followed by the 1980s this area could have been every bit as successful as Lincoln Park, as one could point to Lower Manhattan now being among the most desirable areas of the country. I'd argue that in keeping with Burnham's great "...Make no little plans..." quote the proposal aims to stir some blood - or if you like - Stir the Soul. Michael Reece we can all agree doesn't do either.

Aug 10, 09 7:05 pm
rondo mogilskie

To build Mies' Chicago Federal Center, they demolished this

On the one hand, it's a silly excuse to condemn "Mies the heritage barbarian". On the other hand, if you think it'd be so easy to write off the old building *today* had it survived to this day, even on behalf of a starchitect replacement...

Aug 10, 09 9:55 pm
Distant Unicorn

The pylons should be tall enough to save the structures! I think this makes gesture of sorts to Gropius' contribution.

Chicago and International Olympic Committee, you can leave the bags of money on my back porch anytime... Thanks!

[small]Small bills only please. No checks![/small]

Aug 10, 09 11:32 pm

This is interesting:

This philosophy reflected Gropius' central preoccupation with the social responsibilities of architecture. The idea of "collaboration", which was the basis of TAC. It was carried out in that an entire group of architects have their input on a project, rather than putting an emphasis on individualism. There would be a "partner-in-charge", who would meet with clients and have the final decision of what goes into the design. Originally, each of the eight partners would hold weekly meetings on a Thursday to discuss their projects and be open to design input and ideas. However, as the firm grew larger there were many more people on a team and it was more difficult to consolidate into one group. Therefore, many other "groups" of architects within the firm were formed and carried out the same original objective.

I am not a fan of Preservation Chicago but the more I look at a couple of the buildings and I think about how they were made--in a much different process than Mies's--I can see an argument for saving them beginning to take shape.

Aug 12, 09 2:50 am

To call them Gropius's buildings misunderstands the way TAC worked but people don't respond to the subtleties of collaboration like they do to the deep imprint of the stararchitect...

Aug 12, 09 3:06 am

Not a Gropius but related:



This building is to be torn down in Chicago too.  Designed by the same Architect who designed the Corn Cob towers on the river.  It seems like a great composition of concrete.

Jun 3, 11 2:10 pm

indeed... it very well might be... though i certainly hope not, its a pretty great project...


Jun 3, 11 3:16 pm

what are your credentials to make that judgment?

Jun 3, 11 8:20 pm

I met someone whose client wanted to make the building a new, hip hotel. They approached Northwestern and were told to jump in the lake. Northwestern was adamant that they would continue to fill out their master plan which means tearing down the building and building something new and probably inferior. The existing building is tough to work with. I see a lot of student work now where the enclosure is also the structure and it is really difficult to reuse these buildings. Yes, you could make a cool, boutique hotel out of it and people are interested in that but no one has discussed this in the media. I hope it becomes a new Jetson-like hotel.

Jun 5, 11 11:15 pm

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