While they've succeeded in drawing national attention to their cause – it's become regular fodder for the New York Times -- the oceans of ink haven't drowned out opposing voices, including that of Northwestern, which contends the 38-year-old concrete structure, designed by architect Bertrand Goldberg, can't support the uses it has in mind for the parcel.
Which isn't exactly a first. Northwestern has a habit of knocking down buildings on Chicago's Gold Coast, home to its sprawling medical campus, when it believes they've outlived their usefulness. New construction, yes. Adaptive reuse, not so much.
It doesn't intend to hit a wall this time either. Earlier this week, Chicago Alderman Brendan Reilly, whose ward includes the site, indicated he would be inclined to support plans to demolish Prentice and replace it with a biomedical research facility (Click here).
Not good news for preservationists, since Chicago aldermen tend to hold sway over building issues in their wards.
“My inclination, unfortunately, would be to allow the university to proceed with its plans,” said Reilly at Tuesday luncheon. “I remain open to suggestions. And believe me, if there's a eureka moment, I'm all ears. The last thing I want to do is take down important architecture.”
But Reilly, like Northwestern, insists the building's footprint and ceiling heights are at odds with the needs of a “global” biomedical research facility.
As designed by Goldberg, the concrete, cloverleaf-shaped Prentice originally was an exercise in form flowing from function, its “open-floor plan creating four circular villages of care on each floor,” according to National Trust for Historic Preservation.
Although preservationists contend a new study indicates Prentice could be adapted for research, nobody's really buying.
Problem is that while Prentice may be architecturally significant, its both an emblem and a prisoner of its time. Brutalism no longer translates, if, in fact, it ever did. Which is to say, people think Prentice is ugly. Not that ugly has anything to do with architectural significance, but in debates played out in the court of public opinion, it doesn't exactly help.
Landmark or eyesore? Ugly duckling or swan? Can a building have it both ways?
We'll find out.