The Chicago buildings of Bertrand Goldberg, architect of Marina City, have recently begun to capture my imagination, as I visit and photograph his work throughout the city. The destruction of Goldberg’s Prentice Women’s Hospital (1975) in Chicago in 2013, a building I vaguely remembered admiring years ago, also set in motion my desire to know more about this groundbreaking architect.
Marina City, at the time of its completion boasting both the tallest apartment buildings and tallest concrete structures in the world, is dramatically sited on the Chicago River, and has been a focal point of the city since its completion in 1963. As Goldberg said,
At $10 per square foot, they were the most economical in the United States. They were the first American mixed-use urban complex to include housing and possibly the first in the western world since the 14th century. They were a technological advance that was designed for a world which believed its urban problems could be solved with technology and facts. – ‘The Critical Mass of Urbanism’, a speech first given before the Union Internationale des Architectes in April of 1983.
On a recent Saturday, I hopped on my bicycle to explore and photograph some of Goldberg’s Chicago buildings. Apart from Marina City, I was barely familiar with any of his other work.
Punctuating mansion-lined Astor Street on the near north side like a tall exclamation mark, Astor Tower was originally an exclusive hotel, now converted to condominiums. Built around a central core and rising above thin concrete columns with a couple of floating space-age canopies extending over the sidewalk, the thin tower is rather elegant but otherwise unremarkable, surrounded by a sea of similar structures on the lakefront.
Designed just before Marina City, and built at about the same time,
Goldberg exposed the core at the base of the building and again at top, highlighting its important structural role by making it a central feature of his design. Because the residential stories do not begin until the fifth story, the exposed core gives the impression of an architectural peep-show, the building lifting its exterior wall to expose its structure beneath. – http://bertrandgoldberg.org/projects/astor-tower/
More exciting and, similar to Marina City, combining residential, shopping, and recreational uses, Goldberg’s River City (completed 1986) was a new discovery for me. The only place from which you can view the entire serpentine, double-curve structure, located in Chicago’s South Loop, is from the opposite side of the Chicago River. Building on Goldberg’s concept of multi-use complexes, here he shows his love of curved concrete sections, the antithesis of the “boxes” of steel and glass so loved by modernist architects such as Mies van der Rohe.
The complex, appearing rather blob-like and even startling, can only be viewed in sections from close up. It’s a multi-level and perplexing structure, and I didn’t gain access to the interior, with its grand atrium or interior “street.” Perhaps someday I’ll view the inside of the building; I could, of course, pose as a prospective tenant and view one of the model condos.
I should also mention that my interest in Goldberg was piqued by the fact that I work in a complex designed by him, Wilbur Wright College, City Colleges of Chicago. You’ll notice the rather interesting pattern of square, rounded windows which, in a nod to aviation history, look like the windows set in vertical panels on the interior of a passenger aircraft.
The most striking feature of the college complex is the pyramid of the Learning Center, dominating the intersection of Montrose and Narragansett Avenues in northwest Chicago. When crossing through the tubes connecting to the other buildings, one is given the impression of boarding a plane through the tunnel leading from the boarding gate.
I have yet to explore a couple of other Goldberg buildings in the city, about which I’ll write at another time.